Review by Sean Boelman
Written and directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça, Bacurau is a new Brazilian satirical thriller that feels shockingly timely given recent events. However, despite the wealth of fascinating ideas that the film has on its mind, the script lacks the narrative cohesion to be a brilliant cross-genre hit.
The movie follows a group of villagers in a small Brazillian town as they mourn the loss of their matriarch, only to find themselves forced to unite over a mysterious threat that they do not understand. Perhaps the film’s biggest problem is that it seems to lack a clear identity. Much of the first half of the movie plays out like a subtle character drama, only for the script to take a sharp turn in the second half and become a gory action-thriller.
General audiences will likely be thrown off by the film’s inconsistent pacing. The first act of the movie draws one in with some interesting character development, but that is thrown out the window with a sudden perspective shift heading into the second half. It is clear where the viewer’s sympathy is supposed to lie, but the film doesn’t allow this to form naturally.
The character development in the movie is as unorthodox as its tone. With its significant pivot midway through the storyline, the arc that was built up in the opening of the film ends up falling apart. There are some very emotional moments throughout, but the movie isn’t able to maintain the attachment that viewers initially grow to the characters.
It is obvious that Dornelles and Mendonça have a lot to say about the way in which society functions, but unlike other recent satires that have explored the exploitation of the lower classes, this film lacks subtlety. There is also a very interesting message on the surface about banding together to face an outside threat, but that isn’t explored with as much depth as one would hope.
The acting in the movie is certainly very strong, led by excellent performances by Bárbara Colen and Udo Kier. Colen serves as the emotional core of the film, her turn grounding the story even in its more absurd moments. Kier, on the other hand, is an absolute joy to watch, lighting up the screen in yet another over-the-top genre performance that only he could deliver.
On a technical level, Dornelles and Mendonça deliver an absolutely beautiful movie, even once it takes a more gruesome turn. The cinematography by Pedro Sotero is great and takes advantage of the desert atmosphere to lend the film a Western-like look. Furthermore, the practical effects used in the movie are shockingly effective.
Bacurau has a lot of interesting ideas at its core, and while it explores some of them in a very interesting way, its ambition doesn’t always pay off. Still, as an outside-the-box midnight movie, the film will have plenty of admirers.
Bacurau is now screening online in partnership with indie theaters as a part of the new Kino Marquee program. Participating locations can be found here.