Beautiful art films like THE FATHER’S SHADOW (A Sombra do Pai in the original Brazilian) are too often overlooked in the American horror community. A quasi-horror story steeped in folklore and brujeria just doesn’t cut it for jump-scare-addicted, thrill seeking audiences these days. If we only took a little more time and a little more effort – and, as newly-Oscar-winning director Bong Joon Ho says, overcame the one inch barrier of subtitles – we would find unbelievable gems like THE FATHER’S SHADOW.

Dalva (Nina Medieros) is all but orphaned. Her mother is gone, and her father Jorge (Julio Machado) is lost to grief and apathy. The closest thing she has to family anymore is her aunt Cristina (Luciana Paes). Cristina does her best to keep Dalva fed, and clean, and loved, but knows that their time together is coming to an end. Cristina’s relationship with her boyfriend is progressing… a fact Cristina pushes along by trying her hand at a bit of witchcraft to bind him to her. Dalva watches and learns, and helps. What Dalva doesn’t know is that she has a true gift. Cristina warns her that her gift could be used for good or for bad, and to be cautious. But how could a child control herself when there are so many options open to her? What if she could save her dad? What if she could bring back her mom?

Delicate threads intertwine like a spider’s web in THE FATHER’S SHADOW. Cristina’s love story, women exploring witchcraft, childhood friendships, soul-crushing government work, love, and loss all weave into an hour and a half of a soft, slow burn. The overall mood of this film is incredibly heavy. Not necessarily sad, and not full-blown horror. Just heavy, aching, and dark. There’s a grounded, gritty tone to the visual voice of THE FATHER’S SHADOW. Earth – the literal soil of the earth – pervades every inch of this story. The dirt of a grave – the dirty grime of Jorge’s dismal job – Dalva’s dirty neglected fingernails. I get the distinct impression that this is one of the most mindful, detailed films I have seen in a long time. Each strand of hair and each piece of dust is intentionally placed.

Refreshingly, this story doesn’t shy away from witchcraft, or more accurately, Brujeria, as most films would. Once again, there’s mindful intention to what is shown, what is detailed, and what is not. Women are empowered. Feminine energy is strong, and life-giving, and life-saving. Paes’ performance as Cristina is teeming with strength and power. Medieros simultaneously conveys immense vulnerability and incredible ability. Her own strength never surprises her – it just reassures and empowers her. There’s no “Aha moment”- no “finding her power” trickery – just true feminine energy being channeled into something profound.

The father/daughter dance of this film is profound and sentimental. The power dynamic between the two of them shifts in a heartbeat at times, and you as the viewer can easily see the lifelong scars that Dalva will develop from this damaged relationship. Never for a moment, though, will you doubt the immense love these two share.

THE FATHER’S SHADOW is ultimately a film about grief, and broken people. Dalva must grow up too quickly and raise herself, in spite of the best efforts of those around her. The dark, brooding ache of mental illness and grief permeate the very edges of this film. It pains me that movies as important and beautiful as this are too often forgotten in the mainstream media. It’s my hope that getting the word out, combined with the success of films like this on the festival circuit, will give them a new life and a future. THE FATHER’S SHADOW is beautiful, sad, and in moments even frightening. Human grief is one of the most deeply rooted fears we have, and THE FATHER’S SHADOW taps into that fear with remarkable precision.

10/10 stars

 

The Father’s Shadow
RATING:UR
Runtime:1 hr 30 min
Directed By:
Gabriela Amaral
Written By:
Gabriela Amaral