Film Fest 919 Review: ‘Bacurau’ is a Wild Experience

Film Fest 919: Whenever a movie evolves before your very eyes, it can be an exciting thing to witness. Anything you’ve heard about “Bacurau” does not do it justice. Standing out as one of the more ambitious and daring of the smaller Film Fest 919 titles this year, it’s a flick that takes chances. Unafraid to toy with different genres and to leave in the dust viewers not willing to go along for the ride, it’s quite the experience. As easy to hate as it is to love, the film may prove divisive, but it’s an impossible work to forget, that’s for sure. It all builds to a third act that’s incredibly satisfying, in a phenomenally twisted manner.

“Bacurau” defies simple descriptions. Mixing action, adventure, drama, mystery, and even some horror/science fiction, there’s few roads this film doesn’t opt to at least partially explore. The movie is dark, funny, and violent, sometimes all at once. The pacing is a bit lax in the first section, but once things really kick into gear, it’s all hands on deck for a one of a kind epic.

Things begin slowly, setting the stage for the madness to come. Taking place in the near future, Teresa (Bárbara Colen), has returned home to the small Brazilian village of Bacurau, in order to attend her grandmother’s funeral. The village is in bad shape, something she quickly notices, starting with a lack of clean water. Bacurau would struggle in ideal conditions, but with the local government deeply corrupt and ignoring them, things only are getting worse. Soon, however, lives will be at stake. First, it’s seeing that the village is no longer on the map, literally. Then, the truck that delivers water is shot up. Phone service ends. It becomes clear that something sinister is afoot, and that’s when we notice a drone observing them.

Soon, those operating the drone reveal themselves, led by Michael (Udo Kier). A group of shadowy figures, they have old fashioned weapons and begin slowly making a body count. For reasons they never fully reveal, they’ve chosen Bacurau as a hunting ground. The citizens mobilize, beginning a plan to counter an impending full scale attack, one that showcases something the invaders never could have guessed about the village. That’s when things get really crazy.

Though not an actor’s showcase, Udo Kier does leave a mark with his completely singular and strange turn. He doesn’t show up until almost the midway point, but his acting choices are so brash and so keeping in true to his past performances, he captures your attention. Especially when, in other hands, his character could have been a dour monster, instead, he brings an almost bizarre sense of fun to horrific moments. While Bárbara Colen is rather restrained as our entry point into the story, Kier is clearly having fun.

Filmmakers Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho don’t hold back here in the slightest. Dornelles and Filho deftly manage to mix their modern concerns about Brazil and its political/social issues with a story that never sticks to one genre. It may seem messy, but by the midway point, their writing and directing gel, letting you in on their ambitions. At two hours and eleven minutes, the film is too long, spending long stretches with various characters that don’t need the attention, but when their bloody climax arrives, they depict it with brilliant clarity.

Adventurous genre fans will get a kick out of “Bacurau.” Audiences at Film Fest 919 were certainly taken by surprise. Some might be shocked by what they see. Others will be delighted. Yours truly certainly fell into the latter category. By being as out there as it is, the movie manages to find a unique identity and linger in your brain long after the credits roll.

“Bacurau” is distributed by Kino Lorber and will be released in January of 2020

GRADE: (★½)