Bacurau is a wild mishmash of a film, borrowing ideas and stylistic tics from every genre from spaghetti westerns to deadpan satires in service of an aggressively alienating final product. Bearing almost nothing in common with director Kleber Mendonca Filho’s previous film, the staunchly realistic social fable Aquarius, Bacurau is an ultra-violent provocation that perhaps works better as a statement than as a film.
Taking place in a near-future Brazil, the Bacurau of the title is a small village that has been removed from all maps in order to facilitate the hunting of its inhabitants by rich white tourists from America and Europe. It’s a potent premise, and there is a lot of funny political point scoring, particularly in the figure of the buffoonish and corrupt mayor.
Unfortunately, though, there’s little to invest in emotionally. A huge ensemble means that ostensible leads, like the village’s prodigal daughter Teresa (Barbara Colen) and eccentric drunk doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) fall into the backdrop and most of the characters are forgettable, even as the film drags on for too long. The plot is built out of misdirects and anti-climaxes, and though these are occasionally incredible fun, frustration is just as common.
When the action is really let loose, it’s a blast, shockingly gory but often meted out to cathartically deserving targets once the people of Bacurau start to fight back. Black humour abounds (as is to be expected in any film where Udo Kier plays a colonialist manhunter), and the wilder Bacurau gets, the better it is.
An ominous, John Carpenter-esque synth score and some musical narration from the local mad guitarist lend a woozily off-kilter edge to the soundscape, which comes into its sharpest focus in moments of bloody violence. Filho (who this time out co-directs with his regular production designer Juliano Dornelles) conjures some amazing images, from drones styled like UFOs to fully nude elderly gardeners lopping off heads with high-powered shotguns, but there are also too many actively boring scenes.
In trying to be a thrill ride, an allegory, and a story of a community rebuilding itself, Bacurau’s various elements end up tripping each other up. It’s certainly an impressive and striking film, but one that’s hard to recommend.