We continue our report from Screamdance, the new horror strand at Raindance 2019, with the World Premiere of Marcos Prado’s Brazilian thriller, MACABRE. This screening got us all wired up as part of an experiment in audience fear analysis. Here’s what happened.
By RADIANT CIRCUS
MACABRE aka Macabro
d. Marcos Prado (Brazil, 103 mins)
PART ONE – THE EXPERIMENT
Market researchers Sociograph partnered with Raindance to conduct an experiment in fear, using their patented technology to monitor audience’s brainwave responses to three horror films in the inaugural Screamdance strand: FERAL, DARK ALMOST NIGHT, and MACABRE.
The aim was to demonstrate how neuroscience can add an entirely new dimension to audience surveying, helping indie filmmakers, programmers and promoters better understand audience attention and emotional engagement over the course of an experience (this could be a film, trailer or other screen media but can also extend to the event itself).
That was the science, but we got caught up in the experience. Being fans of William Castle – an American roadshowman of the 1930s-70s famous for using all kinds of dime store theatrics to scare his audience – RADIANT CIRCUS is as fascinated by the presentation of indie exploitation cinema as we are by the films themselves. That means we got rather over-excited about being turned into lab rats for the evening.
Of course, our cheap little horror hearts actually wanted Sociograph’s fancy tech to be more akin to Percepto, “where [William] Castle attached electrical ‘buzzers’ to the underside of some seats in theaters where THE TINGLER was screened” (wikipedia), but you can’t have everything in life. Besides, MACABRE turned out to be way too serious a feature for those kind of whizzbang gimmicks.
The very process of being wired up to a brainwave monitor heightened our experience, as if we were more deeply invested in both the film and its potential to generate fear. Our best analogy is of being given the seat next to the doors on an airplane: after the safety briefing, you’re suddenly more aware than other passengers about what’s actually going on.
Amplifying our tension further, the whole experiment was being filmed for French TV which involved both before and after interviews and a camera actually in the cinema, lens pointed at us lab rats as we huddled together to watch the film. You really could taste the dread…
PART TWO – THE MOVIE
Marcos Prado’s MACABRE is an object lesson in how to create a composite serial killer saga from both fact and fiction. The story is based on a nasty true life case involving a notoriously flawed investigation, extra-judicial killing and a questionable conviction. It takes further inspiration from more recent stories of cops on trial for killing unarmed young black men and roots all this in a rural racism riven with the consequences of both slavery and colonialism.
The film tells of the chase for Prado’s version of the Necrophiliac Killers, young black siblings living in the mountains outside Rio and seemingly responsible for a series of sickening murders. A number of villagers, mostly women, have been killed and mutilated, their corpses further exposed to violent sexual assault. Much of the plot hangs on the tense police pursuit of the prime suspects, an investigation conducted by a returning son of the village (Teo, Renato Góes). He endures both residual family tension and developing news of an investigation into his own actions back in Rio.
In the Q&A after the film, director Marcos Prado revealed how, building on true life elements, he had wanted to better understand what made monsters out of two young members of a seemingly peaceful rural community. Through the addition of some fictional elements that we won’t spoil here, his version of their story emphasises that these monsters were partly made by a place where black lives are marginalised and exploited.
In keeping his suspects largely off screen, Prado eventually reveals the killer’s identity like a classic movie monster – partial glimpses, dragging feet, heavy breathing and dramatic lunges into frame. Whilst this heightens the drama, it risks sustaining a too partial sense of history. Despite good intentions to awaken Brazil to its historic, structural racism, almost all of the black characters are denied agency other than one central – and resolutely pure of heart – police sidekick.
Where Prado truly succeeds is in creating an incredibly beautiful looking film about an incredibly ugly story. Much of the film was shot on location, fully utilising the beautiful mountain backdrops and stunning natural light. Like David Fincher’s SE7EN, we mainly see the nightmarishly staged aftermath of atrocity, macabre still lives arranged as rituals of revenge. The film is shot in a rich, static shooting style, broken only occasionally by some heart-racing handheld sequences. In discussion, Prado partly credits the look of the film to having been a photographer earlier in his career, his efforts to contrast the beauty of the natural realm with the human-wrought corruption within it, a key creative decision.
Given that we were strapped into brain activity monitors, it would be appropriate to leave final comment to the horror show itself. More of a thriller, MACABRE’s genre credentials rest on the theatrically mounted, totemic displays of gore rather than out and out bloodletting. There are jump scares for sure, but really this film’s impact rests on the race to stop the killing and what, if anything, can be retained in the process.
And that’s the meat of it…
Find out how the film scored when we report the findings of Sociograph’s research HERE.
RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
The 27th Raindance Film Festival screens at Vue West End & Vue Piccadilly (18 to 29 SEP 2019).
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