Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Devil Lives Here: Evil Never Dies in Brazil

If Simon Legree were obsessed with The Hellstrom Chronicle, he would be about as much fun as the notorious “Honey Baron.” The cruel Brazilian honey plantation owner loved to talk smack about insect behavior and theories of racial superiority. Eventually, he was killed by an indigenous shaman during a slave uprising, but his downfall was only possible through a painful sacrifice. It also requires constant maintenance to keep the nasty old sod down. Unfortunately, four entitled millennials will interfere with the true believers tasked with keeping the evil entity at bay in Rodrigo Gasparini & Dante Vescio’s The Devil Lives Here (trailer here), which releases today on DVD, from Artsploitation.

“Control the queen and you control the hive,” the Baron often tells his much-abused slave, Bento. The sadist beekeeper took the advice to heart, enslaving and impregnating Bento’s mother, the high priestess-queen of her people. However, the old woman uses her dark powers to turn the tables on the Baron, at the cost of her unborn son.

Apolo grew up hearing stories about Bento and the Baron, but he always believed the poor baby got a raw deal. He still does. Somehow, the former caretaker convinced his parents to leave the house vacant one night, every nine months, so he could safely perform the booster ritual. After his death, the caretaker’s sons assume the agreement is still in force, but Apolo intends to free the unborn infant’s spirit, with the help of his girlfriend Magu (Maria Augusta), her cousin Jorge, and his girlfriend Alé, whose anti-psychotic meds will not be much help when the Baron’s malevolent spirit starts messing with her head.

The way Vescio, Gasparini, and screenwriter Rafael Baliú incorporate Brazilian folklore, tragic history, and old wives’ tales into its fabric makes Devil eerily potent even when the narrative is a little murky. Frankly, it is pretty gutsy just for dealing with the subject of Brazilian slavery as well as the racism that went with it and still lingers (all those old National Socialists didn’t hide out in Brazil to dance the Samba).

The entire ensemble is at least sufficiently competent, while Mariana Cortines makes quite the impression as Alé the headcase. The manor house and plantation grounds are also terrifically cinematic and massively suggestive of sinister forces at work. Cinematographer Kaue Zilli has a knack for capturing the dark side of sunny, which further reinforces the foreboding. On the downside, the speed at which the righteous brothers turn into the home invaders from Funny Games is problematic.

Usually, Catholics make the best horror movies, because they believe satanic evil is a real and present danger, but also understand the power of ritual and sacrament. However, there is something downright pagan at the heart of Devil that is deeply unsettling. Despite cratering at the end, The Devil Lives Here is recommended pretty highly for horror fans, now that it is available on DVD, from Artsploitation.