Is “Nó do Diabo” (Devil’s Knot) Brazil’s “Get Out”? Horror film critiques how Brazil’s slave past continues to haunt modern society and race relations
All photos courtesy of Vermelho Profundo,
Nó do Diabo, meaning ‘Devil’s Knot’ is a horror film that contemplates how Brazilian society has evolved – or perhaps not – since the abolition of one of the greatest stains on Brazilian history, slavery, which ended 130 years ago in 1888. The film is broken down into five intertwined tales of horror, directed by four filmmakers, Ramon Porto Mota, Gabriel Martins, Ian Abé and Jhésus Tribuzi. The film comes from the northeastern state of Paraíba featuring a cast of some of the most well-known actors in the state, including Fernando Teixeira, Everaldo Pontes e Soia Lira.
The film constantly goes from past to present in creating a narrative that shows how remnants of the country’s slave past continue to haunt the nation even with the façade of modernism. In other words, no matter trappings and appearances of a modern nation, the country seems to be hopelessly trapped in a system of unearned privileges and penalties in a day to day to harks back to the old masters and slave sugar plantation system.
In the film’s first scene, we see a house that stands in near ruins being guarded by a gun-toting foreman hired by the head of Vieira family, played by Fernando Teixiera. In the distance, he sees a favela community in the background holding a shotgun, perhaps in the role of a modern day capitão de mato to scare off any unwanted threats from favelados. In history, the role of the capitão do mato was to hunt down and capture slaves escaping from their bondage. Today, the black community has adapted the term to refer to black people they consider to be sell outs or working against the best interests of the black community. In the passage of the scene, the man is nearly driven crazy being haunted by ghosts of that remind him of crimes committed in both the present and the distant past. What one notes from the episode is the idea that the coronelist ideology remain active even today in the farm that served as a sugar mill for many several masters and many slaves who died fighting for their lives. The usage of actor Fernando Teixeira portraying the same owner from the 19th to the 21st century passes on the idea that the maintenance of the oppressive system remains the same throughout time.
“When we’re talking about work, it also talks about land, social relations, sexual relations and gender, not just race and color,” according to the film’s co-director and screenwriter Ramon Porto Mota. “We need to overcome this idea of the myth of racial democracy and the cordial man that constructed in the 1930s with Gilberto Freyre and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, and this necessity of constructing a peaceful Brazilian society. Nó do Diabo reflects this society constructed upon conflicts and that tries to throw the problems under the rug.”
Once again going back in time, the era of the plot returns to 1987 and shows a black couple returning to a mansion in which they work as domestic servants. But there is something very eerie about the house and the characters that live there. Brazil’s slavery era was known to have been particularly brutal in its treatment of black slaves, in its harsh working conditions as well as its methods of torture. Once again, the haunting nature of the house comes to light as torture instruments from the slavery era are unearthed by chance.
The way the film proceeds, in some ways, it comes across as a type of ongoing novela in which one would tune in to catch the next episodes as one traumatic episode ends, and another begins in a coming episode. This makes total sense when we learn that the film was originally imagined to be a television mini-series. The style of the film presents a sort of Brazilian horror movie that in some ways are reminiscent of the American film Get Out (released as Corra, meaning ‘run’ in Brazil) in the sense of mixing elements of suspense and horror against a backdrop that reflects on the racism engrained in both in both countries that have long experiments with black enslavement in their histories.
The potential for the two films can be summarized in the position of the movie industry in both countries. While the American film industry dominates the world (including Brazilian movie theaters) and wins an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, a film like Nó do Diabo will have difficulty getting the widespread distribution and promotion that would set the stage for a film to become a blockbuster. But with its gothic elements, inspirations from the psycho-terror genre, the racial critique and a special appearance by veteran actress Zezé Motta, this film has the potential of a masterpiece that should be on screens nationwide. For now, it is scheduled to be shown in Curitiba (Cine Guarani), São Paulo (Cine Olido SPCine and Instituto Moreira Salles), Rio de Janeiro (Instituto Moreira Sales), Goiânia (Cine Cultura Secult) and Palmas (Cine Cultura).