Sunday, May 31, 2020

BFF ’20: Macabre

They are still in the state of Rio, but villagers residing on the other side of those iconic mountains live in a whole different world from the cosmopolitan city of Rio de Janeiro. Yet, many of their hardscrabble problems are maybe not so different from that of Rio’s famous (and feared) favelas. Regardless, it is always bad news when the BOPE (the cops from the Elite Squad movies) show up. In this case, villagers hope they will finally capture the notorious “Necrophil Brothers” who are terrorizing the countryside, but the assignment will get complicated and horribly personal for Sgt. Teo in Marcos Prado’s Macabre, which screens (virtually) as part of the (online) 2020 Brooklyn Film Festival.

Teo needs to redeem himself, because he is responsible for the death of an innocent civilian during a favela operation. His captain promises to sweep the incident under the rug, if he captures Inacio and Matias, who murdered a dozen women and subsequently desecrated their bodies. Teo should have an advantage because he was raised in this mountainous community, but he left on bad terms with his family (and nearly everyone else).

As Teo launches his investigation, it becomes immediately apparent one of the brothers is just as guilty and sadistic as he has been made out to be. The culpability of the other is a little murkier, but locals do not want to waste time with such fine distinctions. Unfortunately, their next crimes will strike closer to home for Teo, re-igniting long-simmering tensions and resentments.

Macabre is a gritty serial killer thriller in the James Patterson tradition that also incorporates the social commentary of the Elite Squad films and their brethren. Both the favela incident and the hunt for the Necrophil Brothers are based on real life BOPE cases, but in real life, the former event happened much later and involved different officers. However, screenwriters Lucas Paraizo and Rita Gloria Curvo fuse them together quite seamlessly. Of course, that means they really put the screws to woeful Sgt. Teo as a result.

Renato Goes broods hard and seethes with ferocity as Sgt. Teo. He is intense, but tragically human. Guilherme Ferraz nicely compliments him as Corporal Everson, who helps move along the investigation and also provides some key social commentary (he tellingly observes he and the accused’s parents are the only Brazilians of African heritage in town). Flavio Bauraqui looks almost spectral playing Sebastiao, the brothers’ abusive, voodoo-practicing father, but the twitchiness of Osvaldo Mil (the investigative auditor in The Mechanism) as Father Augusto reinforces some tiresome clichés.

Much of the brutality in Macabre is kept off-screen. In fact, the scenery is often beautiful, especially Rio’s photogenic mountains. Yet, despite soaking up the picturesque landscape, cinematographer Azul Serra makes everything look ominous. In terms of category, it is definitely a thriller, but the brothers’ reputed satanic pacts and voodoo rituals supply enough elements to keep most horror fans intrigued as well. Recommended for fans of serial killer movies (who don’t mind a bit of Brazilian social commentary), Macabre screens virtually (for free) during this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival (5/29-6/7).