In this monthly column, I’ll spotlight a horror movie from a country outside the United States that has flown under the radar. The goal is to showcase the talents of horror filmmakers around the world and make sure their voices don’t go unheard.
Movie: Good Manners (2018)
Watch if You Like: American Werewolf in London (1981), Lesbian Cinema, Ginger Snaps (2000)
It’s not often that the words “lesbian” “werewolf” and “musical” are said in the same sentence, but Brazilian horror movie Good Manners (2018) has remedied that. Directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra create a unique tale that takes the well-known lycanthrope story and makes it gay. Importantly, it is beautifully and respectfully gay, portraying lesbian sex without a predatory gaze and showing a lesbian relationship without sensationalizing it.
“Directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra create a unique tale that takes the well-known lycanthrope story and makes it gay.”
Clara (Isabél Zuaa) lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil and is desperately searching for a job so she can pay her rent. Ana (Marjorie Estiano) is pregnant, living alone in Sao Paulo, and desperately searching for a nanny to keep her company before she gives birth. Ana hires Clara and they strike up a close friendship that slowly moves into a romance. However, there is something strange about Ana. Every full moon, she sleepwalks and eats neighborhood cats. It seems like typical werewolf behavior, but she doesn’t grow sharp teeth and claws and she doesn’t sprout tufts of fur. Her eyes just turn yellow and she develops a taste for blood. After Clara confronts her for this strange behavior, Ana realizes that the father of her unborn son was a werewolf.
This means Ana’s unborn baby is a werewolf, which is confirmed by the way he rips himself out of her womb. Unsurprisingly, Ana does not survive such a birth. He is born looking just like a wolf, and Clara is traumatized at the total disembowelment of her lover. However, she decides to care for him like her own son to honor Ana’s life. The second half of the film is dedicated to Clara’s life as a mother to a werewolf son, Joel, and his struggle to understand how to live as such a creature. Being nine is already weird enough, but being nine AND a werewolf? That sounds borderline impossible.
Horror has a poor track record with any kind of gay representation, but lesbian relationships are so rarely shown in horror films. When they are, they are often subjected to a predatory and fetishistic gaze that is often used when lesbian characters are filmed by male directors. Sex between two women becomes pornographic (see Blue is The Warmest Color) and their relationships are treated as sensational, outrageous, something that no one could have ever seen before. However, Good Manners avoids that by simply treating Ana and Clara like two human beings.
Good Manners also tackles another seemingly taboo subject: sex with a pregnant woman. Pregnancy in cinema seems to revoke the female body of any sexuality, as if carrying a child means that sex is no longer allowed. But that’s entirely untrue. Good Manners showcases lesbian sex with a pregnant woman, which to some could seem outrageous. However, again, Ana and Clara as characters are treated as real people, not caricatures to shock and titillate the audience. Good Manners tackles several societal taboos and tries to normalize them in a genre all about sensationalism.
What’s sensationalized is, obviously, the struggle of parenting a werewolf child. Every full moon, Joel needs to goto “tiny bedroom” where he’s chained to the wall during his transformation. The room is hidden behind a bookcase and looks like it belongs in a serial killer’s basement. But, this is just their normal, their way of keeping Joel (and other people) safe. So often horror movies cover the traumatic transformation and adjustment to life as a werewolf. But Good Manners imagines a different story where lycanthropy is genetically inherited.
Underneath storylines about werewolves and lesbians, the discussion of class in Brazil quietly lurks in the background. No matter how the plot twists and turns, class anxiety bubbles under the surface. Ana is a wealthy woman who can afford a gorgeous high-else apartment, expensive shoes, and a live-in nanny. Clara, on the other hand, lives in a small basement apartment where she struggles to make rent. Ana literally lives above Clara in a city known for its class disparity. And yet, Ana never shames Clara for her lack of wealth. The two seem an unlikely pair but their romance blooms into something beautiful yet brief, like cherry blossoms in spring.
“While Good Manner’s first half shines much brighter, it is a wholly unique take on the werewolf movie to which we’ve become accustomed.”
Good Manners will have you begging for more lesbian werewolf movies, which may become my new favorite subgenre. While Good Manner’s first half shines much brighter, it is a wholly unique take on the werewolf movie to which we’ve become accustomed. Whether it is Rojas and Dutra’s approach to lesbian relationships or their ability to weave class commentary into a story about a young werewolf, you can’t help but be impressed with their ambition.