I’m going to do something I have never done before in any of my reviews, and that is tell you not to read it. I am reviewing Good Manners because it is a wonderful film that should be seen by everyone, but it is difficult to discuss it without giving away a plot development that happens an hour or so into its 135-minute runtime. I am going to discuss that plot development below. Some other reviews will not give you the courtesy of this warning, but I feel that going into Good Manners knowing as little as possible will provide the most rewarding viewing experience. Don’t even watch the trailer I’ve embedded at the bottom of the review because that also gives away the big reveal. Just know that it’s really good and I’m giving it 4.5 out of 5 skulls. Goodbye.
Good Manners comes to us courtesy of writing/directing duo Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutro, who previously worked together on the 2011 film Hard Labor. Together they have crafted a loving tribute to the classic Hollywood films of the 1940s (those sets! those backdrops!) as well as monster movies from the same era, shaping it into an adult fairy tale in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Clara (Isabél Zuaa) is a lonely woman desperate for a paying job. As the film opens, she arrives at an apartment to interview for the job of a live-in nanny for Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a wealthy socialite who happens to be very pregnant and very single. Clara gets the job, and the two women become close. Eventually, Clara begins to notice that Ana has a tendency to sleepwalk and eat lots of meat in the nights surrounding the full moon. That’s right, she’s got a werewolf baby inside her. Clara adopts the infant after Ana gives birth in one of the most grotesque birthing sequences I’ve ever seen.
The birth of baby Joel (Miguel Lobo) is the plot development I mentioned above, and it is a major turning point for the film. Up until that point, Good Manners is a nuanced romance between two women on opposite sides of the class divide. After that, the film morphs into a film about the bond between mother and child under the guise of a monster movie. Admittedly, there are two films that are merged together to form Good Manners and you may like one more than the other. I loved them both.
Good Manners is anchored by a terrific performance by Zuaa. She is given the best material to work with. She must contend with falling for Ana despite all of the circumstances being against her and must then deal with the aftermath of Joel’s birth. The emotional journey that Clara goes through is a lot to bear, but Zuaa conveys it with aplomb. Estiano gets the less meaty role between the two, but she makes the most of her limited screen time alternating between playing a spoiled rich girl and a pregnant-with-a-werewolf somnambulist. Lobo rises to the challenge set by Zuaa and Estiano when he is not hidden under some iffy CGI while in his pre-teen werewolf form.
Effects are not the focus of Good Manners, but the few present are of the practical nature save for Joel’s aforementioned werewolf form (though his infant form is an adorably creepy animatronic creation). This isn’t a film that depends on effects though, as it is more focused on the relationship between Clara & Ana and Clara & Joel. This may put off some genre enthusiasts, but those willing to just go with it will find one of the more heartwarming and personal horror films to come out in years. Think of it as an R-rated Disney film.
As good as the film is, its 2-hour-plus runtime is excessive. The film could have used a bit of trimming, and the transition between the two halves of the film isn’t as seamless as it could be. Had editor Caetano Gordan used a stronger hand in the editing room, the film may have been more successful. Yet despite its excessive length, the film culminates in a final shot that will make you wish it were just a bit longer. You will want to spend more time with these characters, which is the hallmark of a good film, horror or otherwise. Rojas and Dutro have created such a fascinating world that it’s difficult to resist just going along for the ride for all 135 of its minutes
Length aside, Good Manners turned out to be the biggest surprise for me at Fantastic Fest. To think I almost skipped out on the screening in favor of catching up on some much-needed sleep (I had only slept for three hours the night before)! With Good Manners, Rojas and Dutro have made one of the best werewolf movies ever made. That they are able juggle commentaries on racism and classism while still managing to tell two deeply affecting love stories is remarkable. While much of the film’s success is due to their writing and directing, the film would be nothing without its two lead actresses, who turn in great performances. Good Manners hasn’t found a distributor yet, but when it does I implore you to seek it out before someone spoils it for you.
Good Manners had its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest and is currently seeking distribution.