The Cannibal Club (Cert 18)
1 Discs DVD (Distributor: Matchbox Films) Running Time: 77 minutes approx.
Release Date – January 25th
People who do bad things eventually get their just desserts. Not that I want to make a meal out of it or over egg the pudding, but it is one of those nourishing facts of life for us to chew on that is easy to swallow. Oh, and if you hadn’t already guessed, this film is about people eating other people.
Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios) are a wealthy couple living in their gated luxurious mansion. When Otavio needs to go away on business, he asks his current pool boy to look after his wife, which he does – in the bedroom. But as they are in full thrust, Otavio slaughters the pool boy with an axe and he and Gilda proceed to have a midnight snack of his flesh.
At a party thrown by Otavio’s boss Borges (Pedro Domingues), a drunken Gilda accidentally witnesses something she shouldn’t. Borges is also the head of a secret men-only club where they watch couples fornicate then kill and eat them. When one member and employer of Borge’s is accused of leaking information about Borge’s security business and subsequently disappears, Otavio fears he and Gilda might be next.
The Cannibal Club delivers what it says in the title in that there is a secret club where human flesh is the main dish on the menu but it also presents itself as a dark satire on the class divide between the Brazilian nouveau rich and the proletariat. Betwixt and opening and ending of carnal/blood splattered mayhem, writer-director Guto Parente spends the bulk of this brisk film building up this world of megalomaniac cannibals.
How much of the satire seeps through to the viewer will be subjective; the film is openly promoted as a horror, but the switch in pace from the shock first act slaughter to the less exhilarating machinations of the wealthy weirdoes means gore fans need to wait a while before any blood is spilled again. Others may be more on board as Parente mocks the self-centred vanity of the indolent social elite and their contempt for the lower classes.
By way of demonstration, the first killing of their evening meal doesn’t necessarily lead us to assume this is a class issue; rather Otavio and Gilda are a perverted couple with a taste way beyond standard peccadilloes. Their lofty delusions are more pronounced when Otavio goes into full Napoleon Complex mode and chews out his security staff for minor infringements with the rage of a Mafia boss.
Gilda also comes across as trophy wife, since she doesn’t work and her sexual exploits with the hired help are a turn on for him to watch as much as the killing is, making a real mess of the bedroom carpet in the process! This might be a case of “too much information” but one thing Parente doesn’t seem to do is subtlety, at least not in this film – I’ve not seen his other works so I have no prior point of reference.
Equally blatant is the sketching of the wealthy. The script’s attempt at caustic wit on this subject peaks at the party when Otario and Gilda chat with another couple recently returned from abroad. They compare Brazil to a third world from being around so many peasants, like the “Squeegee punks”, who Gilda wants executed – then perhaps served on a silver platter with a side order of chips.
Stopping short at portraying Borges as a Nazi sociopath, his speech during a meeting of the eponymous club is a passionate rallying cry to his elite friends to have faith in their end of the social spectrum to make Brazil a better country for the rich. From this, we can infer Otavio’s own extreme sense of dominion at home is reacting out of frustration from having to be similarly acquiescent to Borges to create his own balance of power, in effect perpetuating a chain of psychological bullying.
I won’t spoil the shocking discovery Gilda makes but the handling of it by Borges when Gilda speaks to him about it the next day is utterly terrifying without being in the least bit terrifying. In other words, Gilda – and the audience – are expected to read between the lines of what Borges tells her, which she eventually does, vowing to keep schtum even to Otario.
Unfortunately, the film’s swift runtime means the conclusion of this dilemma is rushed, meaning Otario and Gilda have little room to evolve when they become under threat from Borges. Any potential game of cat and mouse that could have been eked out from this is barely realised, undermined by the addition of a new caretaker Jonas (Ze Maria), an unexpected saviour whose reward is to suffer the same fate as his predecessor.
Certainly, the idea is that Otario and Gilda are so deluded they never learn that they can’t continue to act with impunity and condescendence toward others forever, but it would have been better served had they endured protracted bouts of desperation and terror first. Action wise, what we get is fine enough with a few moments of solid tension, harmed only from being too rushed.
Fortunately, production values are high enough that the surprisingly sparse gore looks convincing, the cinematography catches every moment to create a series of radiant, evocatively composed tableaux, and the cast throw themselves into this gruesome world with abandon and aplomb. Tavinho Teixeira and Ana Luiza Rios complement each other as the deviant central couple whilst the innocuous looking Pedro Domingues convinces us Borges is not to be crossed.
Proving satire is not as easy to pull off at it may seem, The Cannibal Club has big ideas in equating entitled fat cats with literal flesh eaters but only explores them with half the commitment to fulfilling the obvious potential. Another 20 minutes would have made all the difference, but we are given suffices in holding our interest, but perhaps not our lunches.
Portuguese Language 5.1
Portuguese Language 2.0
Rating – ***
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