If Hollywood were to remake this Brazilian horror movie, it would have to be set in New York City, because the Big Apple is the only municipality of any size that is still in the hospital business. Of course, the Federal government has plenty of hospitals—VA hospitals, but that would drastically alter the subtext of the film. Apparently, the government of Rio has also decided to get out of the hospital business, so they are closing the oldest, spookiest facility on its books. However, a patient will be lost in the transfer process, alerting the young doctor-turned-bureaucrat in charge of the liquidation to some nefarious goings-on in J.C. Feyer’s The Trace We Leave Behind (trailer here), which screens during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Scary Movies series.
Rio’s budget has busted, so the governor has ordered liquidation of under-performing hospitals, starting with the dismally ill-equipped Sao Tome. As fate would have it, Dr. Joao Rocha served his residency there under Dr. Heitor, the hospital director before transferring to the Department of Health. He is now tasked with consolidating patients in the larger, better staffed hospitals. However, Heitor just defiantly admitted a new patient, Julia de Souza.
Despite being a pawn in his game with Heitor, Rocha is deeply moved by the abused and neglected young woman when he meets her during an inspection. He is therefore rather annoyed when she is “lost” during the patient transfer. Wracked with guilt, Rocha starts a very noisy and confrontational investigation that turns up some rather uncomfortable revelations. Apparently, de Souza was already dead before the patient transfer, but she was never properly admitted in the first place. In between, she received numerous cat scans and other expensive tests that Sao Tome is not exactly known for.
Something in Sao Tome knows what happened. Rocha can literally hear it or them in the walls. He might be going nuts, but that doesn’t mean he is wrong. In fact, screenwriters Beatriz Manela and Andre Pereira rather cleverly fused supernatural horror with a manipulative political conspiracy thriller. It all works relatively well until it shifts its focus to Rocha’s pregnant wife Leila, becoming a “woman in jeopardy” thriller in the third act.
Ironically, Trace is clearly intended as a protest statement on Brazilian austerity measures, but the more we watch, the more convinced we become of the justification for shutting down Sao Tome, because it really is a deeply corrupt and downright evil institution. As a horror movie location, it is also appealingly creepy and atmospheric. We can see the faded grandeur and the shadowy lighting is perfect for hauntings.
As Rocha, Rafael Cardoso is rigid and tightly wound, in a way that befits a government inspector barging into a horror movie. Leandra Leal is very much the typically passive pregnant woman in danger, but Jonas Bloch definitely looks ambiguously distinctive as old Heitor.
There are a number of creepy moments in Trace, but its commentary falls flat, at best. Arguably, Feyer loses control over his own picture, but that is not necessarily a bad thing in this case. In fact, there is enough here to recommend The Trace We Leave Behind for fans of Latin American horror, when it screens Tuesday night (8/21) at the Walter Reade, as part of Scary Movies XI.