Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In short: A Noite do Chupacabras (2011)

Somewhere in the Brazilian countryside (that is to my German eyes, the jungle), a violent family feud between the Silva and the Carvalho families has been smouldering for a few years even though both families have gone into a truce after the Silva's pretty much lost the fight.

When wayward Silva son Douglas (Joel Caetano) returns to the family home with his pregnant girlfriend Maria Alicia (Mayra Alarcón) in tow, he couldn't have come at a worse time; there's a story hanging on this return having to do with Maria Alicia's drug problem and his study of medicine, but that sort of thing is harmless compared to what the couple finds at home.

Something has been attacking and killing the family's goats for the last few weeks, leaving the father convinced a chupacabra (played by Walderrama Dos Santos with a well-developed body language that often manages to make the monster suit threatening and always manages to make the monster feel alien) is at work in the area. The old man's right, too, but that truth will only be revealed once circumstances consisting of chupacabra-spoiled meat, projectile vomiting, his own death by exploding ancient gun, and all-around insanity reignite the family feud with the added complication of a really ill-tempered monster.

When last we met Brazilian director Rodrigo Aragao, he made the flawed yet entertaining Mangue Negro (please excuse the quality of that particular review) for obviously little money but with a lot of enthusiasm. It doesn't look as if Aragao's budget has risen much for his second feature A Noite do Chupacabras, yet neither has the obvious enthusiasm declined.

The film has some of the typical problems of independent horror cinema from all around the world in form of amateurish (but at least enthusiastic) acting, problematic pacing (the film's at least twenty minutes longer than it needs to be), and a plot that is more ambitious than the production circumstances actually allow it to be. Of course, I do prefer a film that is ambitious yet can't fulfil its ambitions to one that doesn't ever bother to have any ambitions, but there is something to say for actually pulling off one's more ambitious ideas.

Much of what we see in the film's first half or so is a curious combination of horror movie clichés, said ambitions, and moments that actually work, and if the film had continued in this manner, I would probably not even have written any of this, for the film up to that point is too much of a likeable effort with too little pay-off to write even a grumpy piece on it. But then the film and its characters basically lose their shit for forty minutes or so beginning with the projectile vomiting scene. From then on, it's all people screaming, killing each other in home-made gory ways, high melodrama, sudden cannibal black magician appearances (that guy is actually part of the backstory, but that's just another case of the film being too ambitious for its own good), chupacabra birth dream sequences, cursing, and chupacabra carnage. It's certainly not high art, but it's also always far from being boring.

Add to that the fact that some of the film's jokes are actually funny (favourite moment: the teachable moment about the uses of religion), some good camerawork, an unconventional percussion soundtrack, the excellent use of locations (tickling my old love for horror films making use of the local instead of trying to appear universal), and again the feeling of enthusiasm, and you have yourself a flawed yet fun horror movie.

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