Thursday, October 13, 2016

In short: The Black Fables (2015)

Original title: As Fábulas Negras

Four kids play and bicker in the jungle. From time to time, they tell each other stories – about the monster from the sewers that munches the fat corrupt mayor’s guts, a werewolf, the curse of a saci, violent shenanigans at a boarding school, and the gruesome, devil-inspired revenge of a betrayed wife. Blood, guts and undetermined bodily fluids flow and splatter.

For various political and cultural reasons, Brazil has always been a particularly difficult country to make horror movies in. There were of course the films of José Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe/Joe de Caixao), but otherwise, genre entries have been few and far between, and the idea of “mainstream horror” as it exists in the US, where big studios involve themselves in the genre (though usually on the cheap compared to everything else they do), seems pretty much unthinkable. So Brazilian horror generally happens independently, on lowest budgets, and probably without much fanfare, making German genre filmmaking look as if it were in a happy place.

One of the more successful – at least in so far as you can actually see his films outside of Brazil – genre filmmakers in the country is Rodrigo Aragão. Aragão is also the lead writer and instigator of this anthology film that brings together himself, Petter Baiestorf, Joel Caetano, Marcelo Castanheira, and the great José Mojica Marins himself for a film with segments based on Brazilian folk tales and dollops of gore.

Marins’s segment about the saci, exorcism, and assorted bizarrery is the film’s highlight. It’s clearly cheap, but it’s also sharp, funny, and strange, cut to the best soundtrack of the anthology and made with the sort of off-handed verve you’d forgive a director of Marins’s age not to have anymore. There is – as with some of the other segments – also still a degree of subversive, angry political subtext to Marins’s piece, a deep distrust of authority carried by the sheer joy of transgressing against the rules of polite, conservative society.
That latter part all of the segments have more or less in common. Unlike many movies featuring the sort of gloopy gore on display here, the blood and guts are not exclusively symbols of nostalgia for the 80s or the mere fulfilment of genre expectations (though they certainly are both of that too) but also a sort of rebellion against the status quo. It’s actually pretty punk rock.

Given that, it actually seems to miss the point to complain about sometimes amateurish acting or the general simplicity of the stories here – this one’s really not at all in the market for being a tasteful bit of filmmaking, but still understands horror as a thing to provoke the polite classes with. The Black Fables does generally good work with that, and it’s the kind of anthology movie where even the worst segment (that would be the werewolf one) has at least on great thing in it (that would be the reverse werewolf transformation).

I found myself enjoying The Black Fables much more than I usually do with gore-heavy movies, perhaps because the gore isn’t pointless posturing as actually part of the point here.

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