Cemetery of Lost Souls (2020)

Rating: C

Dir: Rodrigo Aragão
Star: Diego Garcias, Allana Lopes, Renato Chocair, Caio Macedo

Having been fond of Aragão’s work since screening Mar Negro at FearCon in 2014, I was looking forward to this one, only to be somewhat disappointed. The framework is good enough, it’s mostly a problem with telling a coherent story around it. The film spans several hundred years, and on a number of occasions I was uncertain in what time period we were operating. Colonial Brazil doesn’t seem to look very much different from the present day version, though Aragão’s fondness for using deeply rural Brazil as a setting muddies the waters further. This ain’t exactly Copacabana Beach. Speaking of mud, everyone here ends up totally coated in an unholy mix of grime and gore. It’s almost a directorial trademark.

The focus here is an evil book written back in the day by a possessed Jesuit priest. It falls into the hands of another cleric, Cipriano (Chocair), who becomes the leader of a cult, bringing terror to the countryside around his castle. However, an uncorrupted priest, Joaquim (Macedo), helps rouse a local indigenous tribe, who fight Cipriano and his men. This ends in a sort of stalemate, with the evil priest and his followers buried on the grounds of the castle – yet they’re not dead, just waiting for the appropriate opportunity to rise. Centuries later, enter a travelling haunt, run by Fred, a dead-ringer for Coffin Joe (to whom the film is dedicated). He and his team, including Jorge (Garcias), go village-to-village, providing scares to locals. This, however, is a case of wrong place, wrong time.

Needless to say, it’s not long before Jorge – who has long dreamed of tribeswoman Aiyra (Lopes), without knowing who she was – are doing battle with the resurrected forces of Cipriano. Certain elements, like the curse preventing them from leaving the castle grounds, feel almost out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I just wish there had been someone like Jack Sparrow, on whom the narrative could be hung. For it desperately needs a greater degree of structure, at least for foreign viewers: maybe it all makes perfect sense to a local audience? As is, it felt like far too much time is spent in the past, setting up Cipriano’s back story. A five-minute prologue would have been sufficient.

I’d rather have focused on Fred and his crew, who offer a nicely sardonic take on religion, skewing their show appropriately, depending on the devoutness of the audience. Well, until one player goes rogue, at least. Jorge, in particular, is not developed well enough to be the hero, yet all of a sudden is going toe-to-toe with Cipriano in the final battle. Did I blink and miss how this downtrodden sideshow employee suddenly turned into Cap’n Jack? I can’t complain about the technical aspects: it looks perfectly competent, and the special effects are generally well-done. Aragão just needs to keep a tighter hand on the script, as what he works with here is far too confusing to be effective.