The Nightshifter


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Nightshifter
"Fabiula Nascimento is superb as the frustrated Odete." | Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

The belief that some people are able to converse with dead bodies and learn their secrets is found all around the world, dating back into the mists of antiquity. Stênio (Daniel de Oliveira) doesn't have a mystical explanation for it - it has just always been part of his life, and it's perhaps part of the reason why he took a job in a mortuary, where he routinely makes small talk with the service users. He tries to use his ability for good where he can, recovering the names of those who would otherwise be buried unidentified in the potter's field, and calling families so that at least they know what has become of their missing loved ones. But one day, when he hears a rumour that his wife is cheating on him, he decides to use the secrets he has learned for his own ends, and in doing so he brings down a terrible curse upon himself and his loved ones.

Exploring an ancient idea in a modern context, The Nightshifter also takes on other traditions and assumptions. Stênio is a likeable man and it's easy to understand his panic as he watches the woman he loves slipping away from him, but does this justify his terrible decision? Fabiula Nascimento is superb as the frustrated Odete, stuck at home with the kids all day, watching herself grow old whilst her husband shows no sign of the ambition needed to get them off the breadline. She only seems truly alive in the arms of her lover. Her performance ensures that audience sympathies are precariously balanced. Likewise, as Stênio's later experiences threaten his sanity, we become afraid for his children and the young woman who looks after them. Is there a supernatural threat, or is he imagining it? If there is, could it be that his behaviour still makes him more of a liability than a source of help?

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A background of gang wars and football violence adds to the sense of day to day horror in this Fantasia pick. Stênio sees people who have died pointlessly every day - on one occasion there are literally too many to fit in the morgue - and it's easy to see how this might drive a man crazy. He has been exhausting himself to make ends meet and has little energy left for Odette and the kids. Meanwhile, his son has been getting in trouble over risky behaviour and it's all too easy to see him drifting into the gang lifestyle. Small daughter Ciça is simply not ready to understand what's going on around her, and her brother's desire to protect her only makes things worse.

In cramped rooms and crowded streets, the tension is constant. Director Dennison Ramalho gives us mangled corpses, open graves and other, less familiar horrors, but there is a sense in which Stênio's woes are just one manifestation of a much deeper cultural malaise. Shot mostly by night, introduced by the grim humour of ambulance drivers, this is a Brazil composed predominantly of grey greens and browns the colour of dried blood, of shadows and a thick exterior darkness without stars. The search for some refuge brings Stênio closer and closer to the dead - and when he knows that nothing he can say will make a difference, he is worse off than those on the slab.

Reviewed on: 02 Aug 2018
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A morgue worker is used to hearing the voices of the dead but when one day he decides to use the secrets they tell him for his own ends, he brings down a terrible curse upon his family.

Director: Dennison Ramalho

Writer: Claudia Jouvin, Dennison Ramalho

Starring: Daniel De Oliveira, Bianca Comparato, Cauã Martins, Annalara Prates, Marco Ricca, Fabíula Nascimento

Year: 2018

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Brazil

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