A little fun fact about me: I really enjoy movies that take place in one night, or during a twelve-ish hour sequence. Actually, let me correct that last statement. I freaking love movies that take place in one night. Situations have to be taken care of in an allotted amount of time that brings out the best or worst in everyone, or at least their most true self. Sometimes characters change into someone they never thought they could be. I’m a straight-up sucker for movies with that plot point. Writer/director Gabriela Amaral Almeida didn’t just do that with Friendly Beast (O Animal Cordial), but she also tied in one singular location. How did she get a hold of my cinematic love list?
Inácio (Murilo Benicio) owns a small-yet-fanciful restaurant that’s about to enjoy some success: the place is being featured in a magazine, and Inácio’s set to be interviewed. But instead of being excited, it’s put him on edge. He has issues with his head chef, Djair (Irandhir Santos); the two seem to be at wits end with each other. But as they and the last remaining waitress, Sara (Luciana Paes) close out the night with some rather annoying customers, the place gets held up by two druggies. In the blink of an eye, Inácio turns the tables on them, and all is well. But he doesn’t want the cops called. He doesn’t want any sort of backup, and in an even quicker blink, he lets his fragile psyche break, and no one is safe. No one.
After this was over, the first instinct I had was to see what else Almeida had directed. She has a few shorts under her belt (those got her some attention a few years ago), and Friendly Beast is her feature-length debut (with another one on the way). I want to see more from her, no question about it. Almeida’s certainty is in everything she touches: the way she sets up scenes, tonal shifts, and the overall feel of descending into madness. Any director can change lights and move around furniture and call it change, or progress. Oh look, the chair’s on its side, you know something happened! It takes a filmmaker with skill to make it seem like hell itself changed that restaurant. That’s what Almeida did.
The second instinct I had was that she must have worked with composer Rafael Cavalcanti before, and yes, she had. It’s been a while, but it was refreshing to see the absolute trust of a director and a composer working in synch. It felt like Almeida let Cavalcanti see the inside of her head and added an extra note saying, “go nuts.” The opening credit sequence features some of the best music I’ve heard lately, and it ties into the rest of the film in the creepiest way. With those two elements going hand in hand, it meets up with wonderful cinematography by Barbara Alvarez, and all of it creates a circle of trust around the rest of the aspects.
The ensemble cast, headed up by Benicio, is terrific. They bounce off of each other effortlessly, and when their worlds collide it never ends well. As the film progresses, another character gets thrown into the mix, and its name is Blood. There are a few things I took away from Friendly Beast, and one thing in particular that I will never forget is the film’s use of blood. It starts with a gunshot, and before you know, there is blood everywhere. It becomes an element, then it transforms as actual attire, and then finally it morphs into something stomach-churning.
All of this, Friendly Beast as a whole, is a wonderful showcase of filmmakers and actors performing without fear. Even though it loses a bit of its power by the very end, the film still packs enough of a punch to knock you out of any comfort zone you had before you started watching. All the good one-night films (I have to work on a better term for that) can make you feel like it’s all going to fall apart at the snap of someone’s evil fingers. This film does so, and with the added element of being in one building. One way in, one way out (which is cleverly explained). What’s worse than being tied up and at the mercy of a madman in a secluded location? Being said victim in an environment that was, not even an hour ago, a place of comfort where you can drink wine and eat delicious food. That’s a story like that takes precision to make come to life. Luckily, this story had just that.
Friendly Beast is a film that I feel captures the definition of word “mesmerizing,” and it captures it with bravado. Cite her years of doing shorts, cite her obvious confidence in the content, cite whatever you wish, but Almeida has made a hell of a feature-length debut. I can’t wait to see what she does next.