Originally published at Revista Paisá in August 2008 when Embodiment of Evil got its theatrical release.
And so the mythological Embodiment of Evil opened. 40 years in production. Out The Other Side of the Wind, with the difference – very typical of Brazilian cinema – that in place of unfinished, our version hadn’t been even shoot. For a film of such size, some annotations instead of a review:
— Jose Mojica Marins fans never do him a major favor by treating his movies in a near liturgical manner. There are many ways to “clean” this cinema and by the same way some worried about the effects of current large scale industrial production system could have of Embodiment, our gaze can sometimes do the same dirty work. The wonder that Mohica’s images produce go side by side with his cinema’s imperfections and its worth remembering that. So to be clear, it is a memorable film, but far from a perfect one.
— It is a curious timing that makes Embodiment of Evil arrive at us in 2008. One of the many fascinating characteristics of Mojica’s films was always how it maps and connects with some of our society more conservative impulses. Given that we are going through one of our most excessive conservative fluxes, it is a good time for Joe to come back to haunt us. The script was updated, but its logic remains intact. Our society cycled nature distilled to perfection.
— The challenge that Mojica, and in a certain way producer/editor Paulo Sacramento and co-screenwriter Dennison Ramalho, had to deal is a matter of image. The fear and fascination that Coffin Joe’s figure projected in the 60s have become an impossibility. Exactly because Coffin Joe created horror less through acts of violence he performed than by his own image. In the films logic, Joe, the pagan, was as vital to create fear in audiences than Joe, the torturer of women. Yet, with passing of time the character’s image has moved around other media and was turn into a cult figure and a sort of symbol/patron of low sleaze culture of all kinds. Like it or not, the damage is done and proof of Mojica and his partners intelligence is that they know they can’t ignore it.
— Embodiment of Evil practices a simple operation: to get the iconography value thar was always important to Coffin Joe’s figure and change its terms, but at same time move it even more to narrative center. Everything in the movie moves around the icon. Starting with a much more seductive Coffin Joe, able to mobilize a following and finding beautiful women more than willing to carry his child. It is a good metaphor for Mojica’s own career: Embodiment’s Coffin Joe is pop, but even more marginal. Before, his job and imposing figure guarantee him a position of some importance in the community, now he is hidden in a slum.
— As often in Mojica films, the performance vary from the greatness of Helena Ignze and Débora Muniz, to Joe’s embarrassing followers. But Jece Valadão, Adriano Stuart and Milhem Cortaz are wonderful as the trio of antagonists for Josefel Zanatas. Thanks to them, there’s a new element in Embodiment: it might not be Mojica’s best movie, but it is the first in that even the simple scenes that exist to move the plot along can sometimes be remarkable.
— Valadão casting is no accident. Another icon of Brazilian 60s popular cinema and one whose current reputation is even more marginalized than Mojica’s. Their confrontation never dominates the film as it should – much because Valadão death mid shooting unfortunately robbed Embodiment of some of its narrative and thwmatic coherence – but hovers over it haunting it the same way Joe is haunted by the ghost of his victims.
— This subplot is very indicative of hoe Mojica’s cinema works: it superficially very obvious and a little heavy-handed, but there is a strangely pleasing effect in its black white ghost images that give it a special force and they add to general portrait of a Mojica more conscious both about his past as well as his legacy.
— Thanks ro Joe’s ghosts, Mojica recreates This Night I’ll Posses Your Corpse ending. As aesthetic resistence gesture, it is a political moment like few others. It justifies the film by itself. [translator note: that film original ending was changed by military censors, it is recreated here as it was originally intended].
— There is a larger emphasis on physical violence in Embodiment. The more hurried ones were quick to point a supposed influence for recent hit horror films like the Hostel and Saw series. Yet, it is worth pointing out that there’s nothing necessarily much new about the very explicit torture scenes here. The filmmaker had always had a thing for those situations, that after all help highlight the power games that fascinate him. The third episode of The Strange World of Coffin Joe, in particular, is a torture session that is no different from the new movie.
— If there are concessions to modern horror, they come through the influence of co-writer and assistant diretor Ramalho, a big fan of contemporary gore, as his shorts and the horror section of the São Paulo Short Film Festival that he curates, both show.
— A point that might hurt some auterist sensibilities: exchanging collaborators from Rubens Lucchetti to Ramalho has moved Mojica from lysergic to visceral.
— Speaking of Lucchetti, the only scene supposed left with little alterations from the original script – Joe’s visit to purgatory – remind us that there we might have far more elegant filmmakers than Mojica, but none as able to create an impactful moment out of creative visual ideas.
— A curious effect of the long time between movies: if before the search for a perfect son worked mostly as a dramatic hook that moved the character, it is now taken over the filmmaker himself. The entire film exhales the need of continue the bloodline.
— Now, do you want proof this is a special film? It arrives early on, one just have to take a look in the opening sequence when the prison warden comes to set Joe free. José Roberto Eliezer lighting scheme, the way the camera follows the character, Luis Melo screen presence – one of our most mannered actors for once well employed in an audiovisual work – and by the end Coffin Joe’s introduction. It is a dive into hell of a terrible simplicity. A tangible idea of hell as one rarely meets. It is not surprising. Its blood is there printed in the film. It is not often one can says that.