Brimming with a brazen Brazillian flavor, Bacurau is one of the more unexpected films of 2020. Here is a film that continues to surprise and shock in how it mixes together elements of Mad Max rebellion, small-town superstition, cutthroat political commentary, and unbound basking in ultraviolent vigor. Evoking cultural relevance and bitter rage, it’s hard to describe the film as anything short of a mash between a giddy grindhouse slasher and an unorthodox exercise in surrealism most sublime.
The town of Bacurau is established as a remote community residing in the rural desert. Though small in size, the populace has a close-knit community of educators, doctors, shop owners, and keepers of history. Every day seems as though it’s treated as a gift, the way the town embraces music and heritage. We arrive in town as one of the elder members has passed on, leading into a funeral ceremony that the whole town takes part in. They carry her off to be dug into the ground, singing a song somewhere between somber and weird. Life continues after her departure. The bitter doctor who cursed out the dead woman recants when next addressing the crowd. The latest visitor wastes no time inquiring about sex. The school is already back to work on educating about the country with tablets and computers.
Their lives are shaken when they become targets of strange aggressors. Horses from nearby farms run wild off their property, fires break out, and mysterious murders start cropping up. More strange doings transpire when the students discover their town is literally removed from satellite imagery and that UFOs seem to make appearances. Without giving too much away from such an unpredictable tale, the aggressors come in the form of those driven by aggression, greed, and overflowing nationalism. The antagonists are amped up to insidious levels the way most of them are written as being so eager to kill off the town they literally have sex in the open after murdering a child.
Bacurau works strangely hard to lead up to its unbelievably bloody and gory conclusion, where chests are shot open and heads are decapitated. Halfway through, the picture’s premise reminded me of the overblown Thai epic Born to Fight, where a remote village has to fight off terrorists who plan to launch missiles from their location. While Bacurau never favors anything quite so over-the-top, it does manage to surprise along the way. I half-expected that the first kill of the assassinating baddies would receive some sudden loss of a body apart. What I did not count on was that it would come from two farmers who blow the brains out of their aggressors while in the nude.
Directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles really have crafted something so brilliant that it can only be seen to be believed. It’s loaded with subversion and twists while at the same time having clearly visible teeth for its targets. It’s brutal when it needs to be, weird when embracing the surreal, and deeply gut-wrenching when it wants to be tragic. Few films ever feel so wild enough in vision and grounded enough in messaging to ever back even have the punch that this audacious piece of Brazilian cinema has delivered.