Fantastically acted, beautifully shot, and completely unexpected, “Good Manners,” which hails from Brazil, is an impressive film with a werewolf theme. In fact, in many ways it reflects a potential future direction for film: a genre-bender that pushes the boundaries of magical realism to bring a new perspective to old tropes. It even has a lesbian romance. It’s not perfect (what is?), and some viewers are likely to walk away scratching their heads, but for viewers interested in novel concepts, this is a movie worth seeing.
Like 2017’s “Get Out,” “Good Manners” is imbued, initially, with a strong commentary about class. Protagonist Clara (Isabél Zuaa), with her extremely expressive face, constant state of discomfort in a world in which she’s an outsider, and inability to pay rent, arrives just in time to cater to the spoiled privilege of her new boss Ana (Marjorie Estiano), who at their first meeting brags that she once went to finishing school and learned to balance a book on her head as she walked.
Ana is pregnant and seems to be living the high life, but in reality, her world is crumbling: her credit cards are being declined and her family and fiance have abandoned her as a result of her extramarital pregnancy, leaving her extremely reliant on Clara as her new caretaker. Clara and Ana’s professional relationship quickly turns sexually intimate.
In the second part of “Good Manners,” the movie takes a soft turn to the right, transitioning into a quasi-horror movie told with a gentle, female touch. Here, the monster isn’t scary, but is rather something to be understood and handled with care. Loved, even. After all, not all “monsters” are monsters. In its promotional material, “Good Manners” bills itself as a “horror fairy tale” and there are certainly elements of that in the movie.
This is not in any way your average werewolf movie, and in fact, the second half of the movie’s closest cinematic analog is “The Shape of Water.” Unlike “The Shape of Water,” however, with its uplifting playfulness, the fairy tale element in “Good Manners” is practical and grounded. In some ways, the movie could have benefited even more from filtered lenses and a visual shift towards the magical. Then again, that’s hairsplitting from a movie that deserves to be recognized for its ambitious approach to storytelling.
While the movie runs a little too long and transitions awkwardly between its two halves (making it more like two movies than one cohesive whole), for viewers seeking a twist on the horror/werewolf genre, this is definitely a movie worth seeing. And kudos, too, for Zuaa, whose acting is spellbinding and deserves to be recognized. “Good Manners” opens on 27 July at the IFC Center in New York City and August 17 at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, with other cities to follow. Check out the trailer: