There is something utterly terrifying about a small-minded man with an inferiority complex. You never know what he might do next. That is, you never know what he might do next until that one dreadful night when a couple of amateur hooligans try to rob said small-minded man’s restaurant – that’s when things get really dangerous. That’s when his rage that’s been slowly simmering under the surface for years finally begins to boil over.
It may not seem like the most appealing situation to be in – being held up at gunpoint by masked robbers demanding your money and attacking your customers – but from the moment the two miscreants storm into the meat-centric restaurant La Barca, it becomes evident that Inacio is not as much a terrified owner as he is more a man seizing an opportunity. See, Inacio’s been pushed around for years, by his wife, by his pretentious, drunken customers, by his cooks – but not today. Not now. Not by these two lazy young criminals looking for an easy payday. He’s been grinning and bearing it for years, but now, it’s his turn to cause some damage – and he’s taking his sweet time.
You know something’s wrong from the moment Inacio refuses to call the cops. Any sane person would’ve had these men thrown in jail as soon as possible. Instead, Inacio has them tied up and thrown into his kitchen – but why stop there? His customers, too, are deemed suspicious, and they, along with the cook Djair, are restrained and tossed in the back next to the petty thieves. The only person Inacio can trust is Sara, his loyal brown nosing waitress who would do anything to maintain her boss’ approval – even if it means murdering someone in cold blood.
This is a unique little tale of survival. On the one hand, there are the people in the kitchen trying to survive Inacio’s wrath by conspiring to outsmart him, and the on the other, there’s Sara in the dining room, morphing and shifting from a shy girl with no makeup or sense of femininity and absent a backbone into a feral animal, oozing with hot rage and killer instincts. Who will make it to the end of the night? The criminals-turned-victims, or the victims-turned-criminals? Only time will tell, but with the clock ticking down and Inacio’s insecurity growing ever more threatening, one thing becomes clear: the steak isn’t the only thing that’s going to be on the slab tonight.
Director Gabriela Amaral Almeida has really crafted something special here. Friendly Beast is weird and uncomfortable and strangely alluring in its experimental nature. In one way or another, every person in this restaurant is reduced to some sort of animal. Whether it be Sara breaking out of her shell and becoming her most primal self, or the once-brave robber now shaking in his boots like a scared little rabbit as Inacio holds a knife to his throat, everybody is reduced to an entrée item on the menu. Even the woman who is personally attacked by the robbers becomes as bare and exposed as the raw meat she ingests. Everyone’s knocked down a peg or two on the food chain. Food is both a comfort and a terror. It’s fascinating to watch it all unfold.
The only real grievance of the film is the finale. There’s such an intense build-up – bodies dropping left and right, throats slashed, and ferocious bloody sex – all to end in a cut-to-black scenario just when things are really starting to heat up. This movie makes the same mistake that’s been made a million times in the past but always feels just as disappointing – having the big boss battle off-screen. Especially when it comes to a movie that prides itself on heavy bloodshed, we the audience need to witness the inevitable showdown with our own eyes. Ameida is clearly a very promising director, but her film cooled down at the exact moment when it should have been at its most vicious. Here’s hoping her next endeavor will more boldly take the plunge during its big climax. With such an intriguing debut under her belt, it can surely only get better from here.