Bacurau is a movie packed with unconventional elements meant to create a profound sense of unpredictability. What starts as seemingly straightforward social commentary plants its first seeds of doubt and mystery during the initial scenes, with the pill Damiano gives Teresa, our alleged protagonist, as soon as she arrives in the titular town in rural Brazil for her grandmother’s funeral. This detail is left to brew in the viewer’s mind, slowly raising uncertainty as the movie proceeds down a more realistic path with the running mayor, Tony Jr., and his clash with the citizens of Bacurau over the issue of access to water. What follows is a strange sequence of events that isolates the town from the rest of the world, reaching its peak with the arrival of a group of individuals who seem determined to eradicate them all.

I started watching this film not expecting to be amazed. Since it was a movie unknown to me at the time, I went into it with the tempered expectations only an acquaintance’s recommendation can produce. What followed was an admittedly confusing but overall gratifying experience, filled with many wonderful and uncommon twists in genre and storytelling, but one that also left me with a deep feeling of misunderstanding of the bigger picture.

@ Vitrine Filmes

The first thing worth pointing out is the movie’s ability to use its own genre as a source of suspense for the viewer. Even though the film runs 130 minutes, it only defines its voice and answers all the questions it raises in the last half hour. For most of its runtime, Bacurau uses elements that suggest a story entrenched in mundane reality, but every now and then, it throws in some inexplicable moments guaranteed to provoke feelings ranging from discomfort to outright fear. The seemingly random appearance of a UFO comes as an immersion-breaking shock—fracturing the structure the film had originally constructed—only to break it again with the arrival of the couple from São Paulo, and even more so with the inclusion of the American assassins and the ensuing killing spree. In fact, I’d argue the way these assassins are handled is one of the movie’s best traits. 

Not only do they masterfully pivot the entire production away from an intrigue-filled narrative into a more violent and action-packed one – an unexpected and very welcome turn – but they were also framed as a force of nature, an unstoppable enemy you can only run away from. And this farce is kept up until the very end of the story, keeping all their motivations strictly confidential: Never are we told how they acquired such seemingly superior technology. Nowhere is it revealed where their entrenched desire to kill all inhabitants in the village comes from, suggesting the possibility there might be no reason at all. Their mention of ‘scoring’ every time they kill a person has especially terrifying connotations, as if every life taken would grant them a point in a macabre game only they know how to play. These hints of horror and science fiction come together marvellously at the end of the movie when the final revelation and subsequent explanation turn out to be more mundane than one might think. Overall, it makes this experiment in genre a thrilling one to see unfold.

@ Vitrine Filmes

One core element I’m not as thrilled about, though, is the movie’s heavy emphasis on symbolism. On the plus side, it allows for a broader interpretation of the movie’s finer details, making subsequent rewatches and analyses of the film more interesting. We can, for example, see the assassins’ being from the States as a critique of American interference in South American politics, or the constant reference to coffins and water as a ritual of death and rebirth—probably connected with the reality of violence hinted at with some of the more important characters, or the village’s rebellious past. 

However, there were also several symbolic elements that either remained unexplained or didn’t seem to add directly to the movie, such as Carmelita’s (the matron of the town) appearance to one of the assassins in a vision, or even the explicit Adam-and-Eve reference in two of the village’s elders at the beginning of the American assault. I am sure most of these references can be understood by revisiting the scenes—and therefore they only add to the film’s rewatchability—but it can’t be helped that, on  first viewing, such a big amount of symbols add up to an increasingly heavy cognitive load in an already packed movie.

All things considered, this movie is the result of a successful experiment in genre mixing. And ultimately, everything that seems out of the ordinary or hard to understand either enhances the feeling of mystery without adding anything of value to the movie or adds a second, deeper layer of meaning to the tale that improves and enhances one’s original understanding of it. Which is it? Each viewer will have to decide for themselves. But I will say that no matter how many times one watches this movie, the small village of Bacurau will always have as many stories to tell as the books in its library.