There’s been a lot of discussion in the horror community of late on ‘what defines horror‘. Where we once were outcasts, shadowed by more glamorous genres, our creepy little genre is now ‘in vogue’. Horror audiences are a passionate bunch, and perhaps in an effort to protect our once niche macabre choice of media, extreme fans have almost vilified anything that dare step out of the strict confines of ‘horror must be frightening‘.
If you are among the latter camp, you will not find joy in French/Brazilian film, Good Manners. Which is a darn shame, because this film, from writer/director duo Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, is beautiful, artfully told, and explores werewolf-ism with a cashmere touch (I got that line from a toilet paper package).
Typically, a story surrounding a werewolf’s curse is merely that. Lycanthropy tends to dominate the storyline, holding tightly to the beats of an externalized, extreme version of ‘shedding one’s skin’ and becoming something new. Whether or not the transition is a pleasant one. Good Manners does indeed stay true to those tropes, but instead of leaning towards typical horror jumps or jaunts, chooses to explore a more emotional journey. Despite full moons and feral beasts, Good Manners is ultimately a story about unconventional love, social class, and exploring taboo.
“Despite full moons and feral beasts, Good Manners is ultimately a story about unconventional love, social class, and exploring taboo.”
Good Manners is a horror-tinged fairytale, set in a world fairly similar to our present one. We meet the stoically silent Clara (Isabél Zuaa), who is interviewing for a position as a live-in-nanny. She arrives at a futuristic high-rise in São Paulo, and is greeted by the charming but juevenille Ana (Marjorie Estiano), who is several months pregnant. Though arriving without proper references, Clara charms Ana with her personal touch. She is hired on the spot.
Ana and Clara are a stark contrast of one another. Ana is a wealthy elite. She lives a selfish life of indulgence. We learn her immature, perhaps over-indulgent behavior has caused a rift in her family, a vulnerability Ana briefly fails to conceal. Clara, is strong, guarded. She lives in the outskirts of the city, in a narrow lane of apartments. Despite their differences, the women quickly warm to one another.
As Ana‘s pregnant belly grows, Clara becomes more confident in her role – which looks more like a do-it-all chef, assistant, and confidant then only a nanny. In an effort to let off some steam, Clara decides to take the night off. Ana responds with a slight tinge of jealousy. When Clara’s night on the town comes to a close, the Ana she left behind is not the Ana she returns to.
“Good Manners is a horror-tinged fairytale[..]”
In the dark apartment, Ana’s eyes glow bright yellow with a hunger, which she so romantically chooses to quench during a spontaneous, passionate embrace with Clara. As Clara trepidatiously awakens the next morning, Ana holds no memory to their racy (and slightly deranged) encounter the night previous. Regardless, a romance between the two women blossoms, as does the frequency of Ana’s carnal fugue states.
It should also be said that fables are long, and so is this one. With a runtime of over 2 hours, this film is lengthy enough to earn itself an intermission. Good Manners is an exercise in patient viewership. Though I enjoyed the film immensely, I did hear a fair amount of shifting in theatre seats behind me at about the 3/4 mark. The filmmakers very likely want the film to be consumed as a whole without break or interruption. But, as there is a definitive divide between the first and second parts, the film may be more universally enjoyable if Good Manners was split into a two-part mini-series, or divided into some other form of sizable morsels.
Without spoiling the overall arch of Good Manners, my favorite moments of the film was the atmospheric first-half, a world of isolation tinted orange and blue. Also, the birthing scene, worthy of comparing to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), and the werewolf transformation and final creature design were no other descriptor than adorable. Yes. I said adorable.
Good Mannersartfully explores unconventional relationships, unconventional motherhood, and the bonds we make with those whom we love. Perfectly enrobed in a werewolf metaphor, we learn that some things are more than skin deep. Though on its face a werewolf fable, Good Manners has more tale to tell.