There’s something disquietingly relevant about “Bacurau” that elevates it above the pack of class warfare movies vying to artistically interpret the current dystopian zeitgeist. Sharper than “Knives Out”, more metaphorical than “Parasite” and high calibre than “The Hunt”, there’s something in the premise of this brutal Brazilian satirical thriller that anticipated and therefore parallels the current Covid-19 strategies of the English-speaking western world.
In the not too distant future, the dusty but picturesque town of Bacurau lies in a remote corner of Brazil. When Teresa (Bárbara Colen) returns for the funeral of her grandmother, the matriarch of the village, she quickly starts to notice a series of unnerving coincidences. The mains water supply has been cut off for some months and the truck which regularly delivers water has been shot at. The village has disappeared off online maps and GPS and the cell phone signal abruptly cuts off. When two strangers ride through the town on motorbikes and a UFO is spotted hovering overhead, it becomes clear the town is the focal point for something very strange.
There’s a real skill to the way “Bacurau” balances its politics and storytelling and the deliberately slow-burn build-up helps to both lull the viewer and ratchet up the tension for what’s to come. Packed with memorably and eccentric characters, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a Brazilian remake of “The League Of Gentlemen” but the darkness pervading Bacurau comes from without, rather than, in Royston Vasey’s case, from within. The crooked and sleazy mayor may initially appear to be the villain but he’s very much just an amuse douche for the real villains revealed later on.
The idea of ordinary citizens being used as the disposable playthings of the wealthy elite is chillingly close to the idea of that same elite using those same citizens as platoon after platoon of cannon fodder in the defence of some esoteric economic outcome against the ravages of a global pandemic and the film does a superb job of exploring the invaders’ callous disregard for human life and their varying motivations without sacrificing anything in terms of telling a compelling and entertaining story.
As it builds towards its bloody and bold conclusion, it expertly builds its sense of righteous outrage, weaving the allegorical tale of imperialism, exploitation and colonialism around a core of moral fury and, ultimately, darkly poetic justice.