(Brazil/France - 2019; US release 2020)
NEIGHBORING SOUNDS), who co-wrote and co-directed with Juliano Dornelles, BACURAU is a hypnotic, wildly unpredictable, savagely violent, and brazenly original genre-bender whose release on the arthouse circuit was shut down by the pandemic, leading to US distributor Kino Lorber making it the inaugural entry in their online "virtual cinema" partnership with independent theaters across the country. Opening with a shot of Earth seen from a satellite hovering in space and set "a few years from now," giving it a vaguely-established sci-fi angle, BACURAU immediately shifts to the title location, a fictional, impoverished town in the western Pernambuco area of Brazil. Teresa (Barbara Colen) arrives for the funeral of her 94-year-old grandmother, a beloved figure who's considered the "matriarch" of Bacurao. She brings the residents some medical supplies and vaccines, which have been in short supply since Bacurao's water and essentials have been cut off by a dam project and a water rights dispute overseen by the loathed Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), the self-appointed mayor of the nearby Serra Verde. He also makes cosmetic attempts at olive-branching by donating expired canned goods and so-called "painkillers" that Bacurao's alcoholic doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) warns is nothing more than a black market mood inhibitor in suppository form. The town is forced to rely on water being delivered in a tanker by affable truck driver Erivaldo (Rubens Santos), but when that week's supply is lost when his truck is riddled with bullets from unseen snipers on the way into town, the residents, under the leadership of Teresa and political insurgent Acacio (Thomas Aquino) sense something is...off. They start getting the feeling that they're under siege, especially when two nervous strangers on trail bikes (Antonio Saboia, Karine Teles) happen to pass through town, and one secretly plants a signal jammer under a table in the local bar.
It's best to stop there with a plot synopsis, as things really start to get wild and the filmmakers go all-in on an "anything goes" approach with the intricately-detailed madness that unfolds. Flying saucer-shaped drones start appearing in the sky, Bacurau disappears from GPS and satellite imagery, phones and electricity go out, mind-altering substances are consumed, and things intensify with the deployment of some wonderful Brian De Palma split-diopter shots, and that's before legendary cult actor Udo Kier shows up as Michael, a mysterious German who's leading a group of racist, trigger-happy American mercenaries on some secret mission in the desert between Serra Verde and Bacurao. Mendonca Filho and Dornelles create a deliriously inspired mash-up of Carpenter and Alejandro Jodorowsky, with some bonus influence courtesy of Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and REPO MAN-era Alex Cox, augmented by some effective needle-drops, including Carpenter's "Night," an inspired synthgasm from his 2015 album Lost Themes, plus an improbable appearance by Spandau Ballet's "True." In an era of prefab cult movies and things like THE ROOM and BIRDEMIC, it's refreshing to see something like BACURAU come along in 2020. It's a real deal, instant cult classic for the midnight movie crowd, and seeing it for the first time is probably the closest we'll get in the present day to experiencing something like EL TOPO in the early '70s. It's the kind of movie where you truly have no idea what's going to happen next, and props to the filmmakers for giving veterans like Braga and Kier their best roles in years. Highly recommended. (Unrated, 131 mins)
(US - 2020)
THE PRODIGY director Nicholas McCarthy, probably brought in to punch up some of the horror elements, and it also has some uncredited contributions from 12 YEARS A SLAVE Oscar-winner John Ridley. There was certainly potential for some incendiary social commentary here, but after a generally effective first act, BODY CAM sort-of sputters out into rote, predictable genre cliches, giving its serious concept a rather shallow treatment. Not bad as these kinds of generic horror outings go, but it's easy to see why Paramount couldn't muster much enthusiasm over it. (R, 97 mins)