The poster art for The Cannibal Club makes the film look like a demented horror flick about meetings between wealthy men where the main course is long pig. Yes, there is one scene in which matches this picture, but truly, the film’s horror lies in its satirical – yet often on-the-nose – insight on how the rich view the poor and those beneath them. Writer/director Guto Parente has woven his satire with the threads of commonplace slasher films, coming away with an extraordinary blend of dark humor, sociopolitical allegory.
You see, the rich don’t merely hate the poor; that would be too easy, as ignoring them or killing them outright provides a simple enough solution in their eyes. During an impassioned speech (featuring Pedro Domingues giving a totally wild-eyed, go-for-broke performance), a congressman expresses his desire to crush the poor under his feet so they may not corrupt society, followed by what seems like endless applause. In this world, the rich use the poor to sustain their lifestyles, sucking them dry until they provide no further benefit; their final purpose is to feed them, being cooked and served up on swords, carved tableside like they do at your local Brazilian steakhouse.
Security company executive Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) seems to exist in a world where no one matters but his wife Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios). Everyone else is beneath him or a means to an end – even his assistant, whose job it is to hold Otavio’s glasses and pass on instructions to other people while they’re still in the room with him. The only time he talks to those not on his level is in the course of giving instructions to the maintenance man or his private security guard, and he talks at them, not regarding them as equals or relative human beings. Parente paints him as someone who is above the chaff and sundry which fills life; the only things he’s worried about are his friendship with aforementioned congressman Borges (Domingues), his wife, the “Cannibal Club” he and Borges belong to, and the bodies which seem to keep piling up… some of which he uses for steak.
Gilda’s not innocent in all this; on the contrary, she’s in this just as deep as Otavio, as he shares his culinary magic with her during the opening credits. Then we find out exactly how those steaks wind up in their fridge, with Otavio being the hatchet man and Gilda taking a role as a seductive accomplice. Explicitly frank sex scenes are part of this film’s stock and trade; there are at least four of them, and one of them starts a chain reaction of events which leaves Otavio and Gilda in a little bit of a bind. When they reach their last resort, we see how Parente spares no pity as he shows us how the rich use the poor – as playthings and, eventually, food. Used and chewed up, only to be excreted later (which we don’t see, so don’t worry).
The way Parente takes tropes like “sex equals death,” “never drink or do drugs,” or “never say ‘I’ll be right back’” (yes, all hail Randy Meeks – if you haven’t seen Wes Craven’s Scream, I really don’t know what to tell you) and turns them on their head reveals a playful undercurrent of the blackest comedy running through the entire film, even into its closing credits. Even Otavio gets into the meta while warning his security guard when he’s telling him to stay alert, ’cause it’s always the security guard who dies first. From the overt sex scenes to a few lines in a seemingly pointed interview, all the staples we love about horror films are injected into this morality play and toyed with, saving its best shocks for last and giving you a lot to chew on afterward.