*Mild spoilers ahead for Good Manners (2018)*
Werewolf myths have captured the so-called duality of human nature since The Epic of Gilgamesh circa 2100 BC. The artsy film Good Manners gives new life and new morals to the tale of men turning into wolves in 2018.
Critically-acclaimed filmmakers Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra twist fantasy, social tension, and a musical narrative together in this film about giving birth to and raising a half-human, half-wolf child. The story progresses as a reverse Disney-fied fairy tale: from true love to pain to the unknown. While protagonists like Rapunzel escape the unknown and realize their destiny, the unthinkable is waiting for Clara in the end.
In the beginning, Clara, a poor nurse, finds a job caring for the mysterious, wealthy, and pregnant Ana in São Paulo, Brazil. Their relationship gradually transforms from professional to romantically involved. It hits some snags, such as when Ana bites Clara (in a not kinky way) or the time she sleepwalks out of her lavish apartment and across city streets to eat an unsuspecting cat.
Nevertheless, Clara sticks by Ana’s side. The first half of the film indulges viewers in a happy if not a glamorous love story. The French-Brazilian collaboration deploys tropes typical of the werewolf genre. This means plenty of glowing yellow eyes and ominous off-screen growling, but these are followed with certain surprises. In one refreshing move, Rojas and Dutra normalize two women in love before they attempt to normalize raising a lycanthrope.
Unfortunately for Clara, the full moon shows up, and with it, increasingly worrisome reminders that Ana is not carrying an average baby. On the night of Festa Junina, Clara returns home to find Ana in excruciating pain. As Clara runs to call the doctor, the baby tears open Ana’s stomach in an extremely graphic scene. Then, in a move that challenges just how compassionate Clara is, she saves the hideous baby.
In its second half, Good Manners implies that despite our best intentions, we cannot always suppress our wild side. It also asks just how far a parent will go for their child. The pacing is leisurely at times, but this adds integrity to the world-building. It means we have time to rationalize the protagonist’s questionable decisions. That “duality of human nature” later shifts from the implications of Ana and Clara’s disparate identities to Joel, the unassuming little boy who has to be chained to a wall once a month.
The filmmakers create a highly stylized version of São Paulo. Modern day flashbacks are depicted through a medieval storybook lens. Rojas and Dutra subvert the tired heteronormativity of the horror genre, convince us to care for the monster, and trust viewers enough to leave the ending unresolved. The film also reminds you to listen to your mother when it comes to being a werewolf in an urban setting during a time when people have a mob-mentality about everything from politics to which is the best phone company (in case you needed that reminder).
Good Manners includes many firsts. For starters, it is the first film to convince me wallpaper will make a comeback. But more importantly, it feels like the first werewolf flick in which there are more lesbians than werewolves. It is a gorgeous reminder that not every monster’s story has been told.
Good Manners (2018) premieres August 17 at the Laemmle Royal in LA.