“A Wolf at the Door” arrives in American cinemas, a hot and surprising Brazilian thriller delivered here hot on the heels of the Brazilian World Cup.
It’s a kidnapping mystery in which a police inspector tries to figure out who might have picked up a child that wasn’t her own from a Rio de Janeiro school.
The mother of the little girl, Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) is frantic. The school teacher is weepy and apologetic, full of excuses and one interesting clue.
“But Clarinha (the daughter) RAN to her,” she says (in Portuguese, with English subtitles), of the mysterious kidnapper, who called herself “Sheila.”
Then Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz), the father, arrives. He’s sure he knows who did it. Great, now we’re getting somewhere. Who? His “crazy” mistress, a beautiful 25 year-old who was somehow charmed by this toothy bus-driver.
“Rosa.” She’d left him a strange message, set up a rendezvous. We’ll meet her, you arrest her and I’ll get my daughter back
“Men do things like that,” Bernardo says, shrugging off the affair to the cop (Antonio Saboia). “They’re — you know, unavoidable.”
“No, I don’t know,” the cop says with a glower.
The cop is quiet and patient, but blunt. He doesn’t like incomplete answers, and when Rosa doesn’t make the rendezvous, he turns more blunt. What are you two not telling me?
In further interrogations, broken up by flashbacks which take us to how Bernardo met Rosa, the story begins to make sense, only to change directions with the next interrogation/flashback.
“A Wolf at the Door” (in Portuguese, “O Lobo atrás da Porta”) only gets serious about unraveling the mystery after the police bring Rosa in. Cleverly played by Leandra Leal, she is by turns confident and defiant, weepy and confessional. Yes, she took the kid. No, she doesn’t have her.
A fourth suspect is mentioned, maybe a fifth, as the cop questions each of the three people in the police station, in turn. The plot thickens, after the inevitable “Is there anything you’d like to add?”
There are lies and more lies, guilt that seems to spread far and wide as the tale unfolds. Writer-director Fernando Coimbra sets us up for a handful of possible scenarios, teasing out what might have happened, where the solution to the mystery might lie.
He unwisely abandons the interrogations-interrupted-by-flashbacks format — full of nervous close-ups, often hiding the inspector asking the questions — and settles into an hour long, out-of-order flashback. That robs the story of its urgency. There is a missing child, after all. The cops, in better thrillers like this, have a hint of panic in them as well. The movie’s energy never flags, but it never rises to the level of pulse-pounding, either.
Filmed in a sun-baked Rio of working class neighborhoods, performed by players who don’t give the game away, “Wolf” relies more on surprise plot twists than the standard “ticking clock” of Hollywood thrillers. And there are stunning turns, a few that will make your jaw drop.
The sex, the violence, the threats and violations spread far and wide and envelop these three people. And the morale of the tale is clear, almost from the first to the last. Lies have consequences. If you’re feckless and not careful about it, your lies are what bring that wolf to your door.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, explicit sex, profanity
Cast: Leandra Leal, Milhem Cortaz, Fabiula Nascimento Fabiula Nascimento, Antonio Saboia Antonio Saboia
Credits: Written and directed by Fernando Coimbra. An Outsider Pictures release.
Running time: 1:40