Directed by Rodrigo Aragão
Written by Rodrigo Aragão
Starring: Renato Chocair, Allana Lopes, Diego Garcias, Caio Macedo, Clarissa Pinhei
Evil can’t be controlled
The present is formed by history, and battles started hundreds of years ago still wage on. Brazilian writer-director Rodrigo Aragão’s newest film, O Cemitério das Almas Perdidas (The Cemetery of Lost Souls, 2021), is an engrossing and dark fantasy that pits the fight between the shamanism of Brazil’s indigenous people against the staid, oppressive and exploitative Catholicism of the Portuguese colonists. The movie opens with a dedication to José Mojica Marins, Brazil’s most well-known horror icon: Zé de Caixão/Coffin Joe because AragãoIs is telling the audience to prepare for a history lesson, through the lens of horror.
The Europeans used violence as the first tool to subjugate the Brazilian natives. Catholicism, with its hierarchical nature, next taught the survivors that their “place” in the hierarchy equaled their (lack of) power and (lack of) agency. Since monotheistic Catholicism does not abide competition, the Indian’s beliefs had to be forcefully eradicated. The battle between the ways of worship are lead by powerful characters who must fight with their own unique weapons.
The Cemetery of Lost Souls saga spans several centuries, beginning when Brazil was a Portuguese colony and ending in the mid-20th century. In the opening scenes, a Jesuit priest (Renato Chocair) murders the Grande Inquisidor and steals a Satanic grimoire, a book of spells dictated by Satan. The spells in the grimoire call for fresh human blood. The priest uses the spells in the book to perform miracles, each one preceded by a murder, and a cult of believers grow around him. Now calling himself Cipriano, he and his followers travel to Brazil.
Once in Brazil, the Cipriano and his adherents occupy themselves with slaughtering the indigenous people. Cipriano becomes obsessed with Ayra (Allana Lopes), a shamanistic woman who narrowly escaped her village’s massacre. He imprisons her in the church, hoping to learn the secrets of her people’s religion.
Before Cipriano can interrogate her, a fearful-looking tribe of cannibals attacks the church and cemetery to rescue her. During the ensuing battle, Cipriano uses the grimoire to transform himself, Ayra, and the cult into invulnerable, bloodthirsty revenants. Joaquim (Caio Macedo), a member of Cipriano’s coven, escapes with volume and uses it to seal them inside the cemetery. Cipriano reaches through the gates and struggles with Joaquim. He tearing the grimoire in half, rendering it useless, and trapping them all inside the cemetery.
In the 20th century, the native village is now a small community of fervent Catholics who live in fear of monsters trapped in the cemetery. As in the Old Testament, the townspeople offer blood sacrifices to Cipriano’s coven to protect them. This blood tax is paid by hapless travelers the villagers capture and take to the cemetery on the new moon of each month. When a traveling grand guignol troupe arrives at the village, they quickly find themselves headed to the bloody altar inside the ruined church. Jorge (Diego Garcias), a member of the troupe, discovers that Ayra has been sending him messages in his dreams his entire life to prepare him to battle Cipriano and his minions.
While Cemetery of Lost Souls may open many doors into the worlds of history, magic, and adventure, but scarcely has enough time to explore them all adequately. The battle scenes are bloodied spectacles as axes slash, and fresh wounds gush. It is easy to lose track of the complicated, multilayered story amidst all this blood and action. The plot relies heavily on several time-jumping flashbacks that leave many unanswered questions about the characters. Overall though, as Fred (Francisco Gaspar), the grand guignol troupe’s master of ceremonies promises, Cemetery of Lost Souls is a story full of horror, action, and magic and one worth watching intently.
I was able to review this movie courtesy of Fantaspoa, Latin America’s largest fantastic film festival. This year’s festival is online and free (but only in Brazil). All films are streamed for free on the streaming platform Darkflix, and Additional details are available at www.fantaspoa.com.