What’s with rich people and murder? I mean honestly, it’s as if humans just act all civilized and moralistic, but as soon as money and power come into play, we go right to devouring the lower class. Hannibal Lecter did it. Some of the villains in Hostel did it. And now we have a whole damn secret society of cannibals in The Cannibal Club…
…The idea of cannibalism has often been explored in film, but outside of popular examples such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Hannibal Lecter series, hasn’t been done much to glowing public reception. Often a controversial sub-genre for its grotesque brutality, writer/director Guto Parente does little to break away from such perception with The Cannibal Club. In the film, we’re introduced to Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios), an elite married couple with a penchant for slicing up their employees and eating them down to the bone. Otavio is a high-ranking member of The Cannibal Club, a secret society of like-minded individuals. But when Gilda discovers the secret of the club leader, Borges (Pedro Domingues), she and Otavio find their lives in danger.
From the first axe to the head all the way to the final splash of gore, The Cannibal Club is a mixed bag of blood and guts. Through it all, Teixeira and Rios carry the film with solid performances that keep The Cannibal Club interesting, even when it’s at its dullest. Teixeira’s Otavio reminds me a lot of Paul Shenar’s Sosa in Scarface, with his intimidating mannerisms and measured way of speaking. This may seem like a random reference, but The Cannibal Club ends up feeling more like a gangster film than anything horror, and it wouldn’t shock me one bit if Scarface has any influence on the film. As for Rios and her portrayal of Gilda, she may be the blood-soaked star of the show. A fierce woman with an intense love for sexual, bloody violence, she could give Elizabeth Bathory a run for her money. Rios is absolutely mesmerizing, like a Venus flytrap with her combination of beauty and dangerous cunning. This is a couple you do not want to fuck with.
Parente takes these characters and drops them into what feels like a modern, gritty, cannibalsploitation film with a 60s vibe. The Cannibal Club is at first vaguely reminiscent of director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ work, specifically films like Blood Feast or Wizard of Gore. Equipped with composer Fernando Catatau’s catchy soundtrack reminiscent of 60s exploitation, The Cannibal Club opens with a scene which literally paints the walls red, set against a stark contrast of white which gives the blood a nastier, more in your face look to it. And Parente does not hold back. Like most cannibal films, The Cannibal Club is going for the gross out. This film is an explosion of all sorts of body fluids, a gallon of blood here, a dash of semen there. When watching The Cannibal Club, you’ll want to put down that Big Mac, or risk losing interest in it forever. Because this film isn’t just about the actual gore. Even the cooked meat (human, of course) looks disgusting, and is enough by itself to make you lose your appetite. Or make you hungrier, you weirdo.
Maybe it’s just because American cinema has a stick up its ass, like that poor impaled girl in Cannibal Holocaust, but The Cannibal Club seems gratuitous by nature compared to what you’re probably used to. In Parente’s film, if something can be gratuitous, it is. Here you’ll find Gilda rubbing blood over her naked body as Otavio jerks off in a corner. Bodies are chainsawed to pieces. The sex is wild and goes on for longer than expected (props to the cast for the guts to shoot such personal, extreme moments). But before horror fans get too excited, let me calm your expectations right here and now. The Cannibal Club is not at all the horrific gore fest you might be thinking it is. Yes, Parente and his crew go all out when it comes to the more violent moments, but even though this film revels in its sadistic depravity, it is so much tamer when it comes to the horror than your typical cannibal flick.
Despite its premise, The Cannibal Club is a slow-paced blend of genres without fully nailing any of them. Part cannibal film, part gangster flick, Parente’s film often leaves both stories by the side of the road, drifting aimlessly along some dark road leading to nowhere. Forty minutes in, The Cannibal Club offers up just one kill, and hardly digs into the socialite club of killers which Otavio is a part of. There isn’t much of a sense of what these people do, so we as the audience are deprived the best parts of both worlds, getting them in small doses here and there. I don’t mind that the cannibal elements become secondary to Borges’ beef with Otavio and Gilda, but even that “A” story doesn’t become a thing until there’s about thirty minutes left.
What’s worse is that Otavio and Gilda, our anti-not-at-all-a-hero main players get very little if any character development. Parente sprinkles possible conflicts between the two throughout, such as Otavio’s jealousy with Gilda, which is really unwarranted since he ENJOYS watching her screw another man before driving an ax into his brain. But still, the possibilities for conflict between the two are there, yet Parente never does anything with the characters to push them to their limits. Which is a shame, because Teixeira and Rios are so damn good in their roles, you’ll find yourself wishing their relationship had more meat on the bones, pun somewhat intended.
That being said, The Cannibal Club is not a “boring” watch. Like watching my twenty-pound dog trying to carry something that’s too big for him, there is still an entertainment value in this film, which is biting off more than it can chew. Sure, it fails in the horror, drama, and action which it seems to strive for, but what The Cannibal Club excels at is making the viewer uncomfortable, which is its own form of entertaining. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Lucas Barbi. Barbi frames images with a personal touch that often feels too close for comfort. Combined with the editing by Luiz & Ricardo Pretti and their penchant for shots which hold longer than you might like, The Cannibal Club maximizes discomfort and will get you squirming in your seat, one way or another.
There are some brilliant moments of gore and depravity in The Cannibal Club that you will have to see to believe. Unfortunately, Parente’s film never quite finds its footing, on a tight rope between two genres of film without ever naturally combining the two. The Cannibal Club is a meal that starts off hot, but is cold and flavorless by the time the end credits roll.
The Cannibal Club releases on VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment March 5th.
By Matt Konopka