Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Hard Labor: This Store is Cursed
There is one cursed shop in every
neighborhood. Despite an apparently prime location, nobody can make a go of it
there. In the case of this Brazilian grocery, it is not just bad Feng shui. There
is a sinister air hanging over the place. Unfortunately, the global recession
raises the stakes of failure for the would-be grocer and her suddenly
unemployed husband in Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra’s Hard Labor (trailer here),
which opens this Friday in New York.
Frankly, Helena should have started walking
after taking one gander at grim, long shuttered store. It looks like a perfect
location to film torture porn. Yet, she has her heart set on transforming it
into a mid-sized neighborhood supermarket. She really should have let the idea
go once she learned her middle-management husband Octavio was just downsized. Plus,
she is about to hire Paula as their live-in maid—off the books, of course. Nevertheless,
she is convinced this is the perfect opportunity for them.
Needless to say, there are problems right from
the start, like mysterious foul stenches and black viscous ooze flowing up from
cracks in the floor. The snarling dog often prowling about around closing time
is also a tad ominous. There is just something supernaturally wrong about the
place. Whatever it is, it causes bad vibes that threaten to undermine Helena’s business.
Four or five years ago, condescending
filmmakers discovered this bizarre phenomenon called “unemployment,” in which
people want to work (can you imagine?), but can’t find jobs. To distinguish Labor from the field of austerity and
downsizing films, Rojas & Dutra add legit horror movie elements, but they
never really let them loose to play. In fact, they have a maddening habit of
cutting away from all the payoff scenes, just before they get good (from a fan’s
As her namesake, Helena Albergaria is
frighteningly single-minded in her pursuit of green grocer success, but after a
while we just so get her dual role as exploiter and exploited. Marat Descartes also
does a nice job expressing Octavio’s insecurity and rage. However, the whole
time we just want to see the secret behind the grocery walls.
Helena’s store is a wildly eerie setting, perfectly appointed by production
designer-art director Fernando Zuccolotto. It is just a shame Rojas & Dutra
do not let more things go bump there, especially considering how primed we are
from Matheus Rocha’s moody cinematography. Yet, they refuse to indulge in much
genre business. Ironically, this results in more unanswered questions rather than
less. Regardless, we have been down this road before, with better films (like
Kiyoshi Kursawa’s Tokyo Sonata) and
worse (such as Álex de la Iglesia’s As Luck Would Have It). Stylish but
ultimately an in-between puzzler, Hard
Labor opens this Friday (10/30) in New York, at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Brazilian Cinema, Horror Movies