THE CANNIBAL CLUB Review: Rich People Problems, But With Chainsaws

Cannibalism and the elite go together like fava beans and Chianti.

Hannibal did it. Delicatessen did it. Eating the rude and society's disposables holds great metaphorical potential, couched in taboo-busting shock value. While Guto Parente's The Cannibal Club operates more as a siege thriller with pitch-black humor embroidered throughout, its class commentary is no less effective.

The 2018 film is the Brazilian writer-director's seventh feature, and it's a doozy. Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios) are the elite, the richest of the rich living in a Brazilian mansion. On occasion, Gilda seduces poolboys and guards (of the security company her husband owns) on the property while Otavio watches, masturbating. As they climax, Otavio sneaks up with an axe and does some sharp penetrating of his own, sending blood and semen splattering on the floor. So begins The Cannibal Club.

As the title implies, Octavio isn't the only member of the all-male club. It is led by Borges (Pedro Domingues), who is also a congressman because of course he is. They and other prosperous gentlemen link up on occasion and they bust out the top hats, tails, and fine china while they pay victims to bang under a spotlight and then summarily butcher them for the evening's feast. Eventually, Gilda drunkenly stumbles towards a secluded spot and accidentally discovers Borges in a compromising position. She tries to smooth the situation over the following day by promising not to reveal this sensitive information to anyone. She, in her naïveté, thinks that that's the end of it, and that the leader of a secret society that systematically murders and eats people will be a-ok with that. Imagine her surprise when she and her man end up next on the menu.

As of late, cannibalism has gotten a few coats of high-gloss sheen, finding its way into serious narratives like that of Raw and the tongue-in-cheek but mainstream Netflix series The Santa Clarita Diet. The Cannibal Club belongs in the same category. DP Lucas Barbi's camera finds beauty in barbarism, elevating the seedy-on-paper plot beyond 42nd street exploitation into visually arresting panoramas and stark shadowplay underscoring the covetousness of the film's major players.

It's hard to avoid controversial Video Nasty The Cannibal Man (which could have the alternate title of The Broke Butcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week) in reference to this film, particularly when it comes to their genre-steeped examination of the ever-widening social stratum in their respective countries. The digs at Brazil's ruling class are sledgehammer-subtle, hence the use of the extreme vehicle of cannibalism in the first place. Octavio's wealth from his private security company is its own barrier from the poor; the tense political atmosphere of the country and the shady police corruption necessitates separate protections, but only for those who can afford it. But The Cannibal Club deviates from its Spanish counterpart in its focus on the elite and how precarious their position at the top truly is. It takes a single perceived moment of vulnerability for Borges to try to annihilate Octavio and Gilda, whom he sees as threats to his status.

The biggest similarity to the 1973 film is in its deceptive use of flesh-eating; there's not much cannibalism to be seen onscreen. What little cannibalism is present is merely alluded to with match cuts from bloody mayhem to quiet mealtime. There's little of the "Choke on 'em" Day of the Dead grotesquery to be found here; flesh-eating is simply another genre tool in Parente's arsenal. This works well in that it avoids metaphorical dead-horse-flogging in favor of letting the characters lead the way.

The characters, ranging from fair-weather friend to skeezy opportunist, walk right up to the line between satire and hollowed caricature. Teixeira and Rios' performances ground the over-the-top violence, further keeping the film from treading exploitation waters. They are fully fleshed out as a stuffed-shirt blowhard and a privileged but compassionate bleeding heart, respectively. Together, their chemistry is spectacular, making them collectively endearing even for one-percenters. Perhaps this is Parente's cruelest trick in a world that wants nothing more than to eat the rich.

Parente tempers explicit scenes of sex and ultraviolence with subtle moments where what's not said matters more than what's spoken aloud. The result is a confident film that knows when to get nasty and when to pump the brakes for maximum effect. The fact that actual cannibalism doesn't figure much into the plot is forgiveable, because the story is whole, the characters are tangible, and the message is sharp. Parente has plenty to say without going full Salo with it, and the cheekiness makes The Cannibal Club infinitely more rewatchable.