Through the Shadow Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
Released by Jinga Films
Directed by Walter Lima Jr.
Written by Nelson Caldas, Adriana Falcao, Walter Lima Jr., Guilherme Vasconcelos
2015, 106 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Virginia Cavendish as Laura
Mel Maia as Elisa
Xande Valois as Antonio
Domingos Montagner as Afonso
Walter Lima Jr's beautifully shot Through the Shadow is a ghostly tale that leaves twisted blood. The Brazilian psycho-drama riffs on MR James's Turn of the Screw in what transpires as yet another South American genre gem. Last year's Frightfest saw Venezuela's mind-warping House at the End of Time run riot with the mind. So much so that it's now being remade by the Hollywood tycoons. Lima's ghostly story is far more conventional and induces a subtle brand of terror in the vein of Jack Clayton's adaptation The Innocents, Amenabar's The Others and Nick Murphy's underrated period drama The Awakening.
Laura (Virginia Cavendish) lost her mother a year ago. Confined to a convent ever since, she rather reluctantly agrees to go out to a remote coffee plantation to care for a wealthy businessman's nephew and niece. The orphaned children are the cute yet dangerously cunning Elisa and the challenging, uber confident Antonio who returns to the plant. Geraldina, the housekeeper, runs a tight ship but seems to harbour dark secrets relating to the past and the human trap Laura has inadvertently walked into. While lacking in sheer suspense, the glamorous and authentic production design transports you into the Brazilian countryside. It's a strange, out-of-body experience at times; places and faces seem familiar, like the past clinging on to the present with all its vicious might.
The shadowy fate of the previous teacher and workers at the plant have great bearings on the sanity of Laura. Hallucinations begin and a conspiracy is hatched. Or so it seems as the viewer is placed firmly in the camp of the teacher viewing events through her maddening eyes. Adverse events soon spiral into a crushing storm of anarchy that pours over the distressed damsel. Cultural references to her gender inferiority add fuel to the fire 'you need a man to take care of all of this'. It becomes a titanic struggle of Laura against the world. There's a torturous moment as she literally throws out the past belongings of her deceased predecessor and torches them into flames as the village folk look on. It's a poignant metaphor that completes Laura's defamation but also double hats as a signifier of her empowerment.
Repression of sexual desire rings loud and clear from the opening frame. Antonio makes sexual advances towards Laura, there’s an uncomfortable voyeur sequence involving a bathtub and a general sexual angst burning beneath the surface. The children are superb and appear to be possessed by older, more experienced minds. Mel Maia is superb as manipulative Elisa and Xande Valois is extraordinary as the aggressively cunning Antonio.
It may feel a little tame for some and one could argue the cultural transposition and integration of a sexual charge erodes the terror of MR James's work. But there's no doubting Through The Shadow has staying power, a film that gets better after time elapses. Like the fondest memory or the toughest of heartbreaks.