SIFF Double Feature – Ruin Me and Good Manners
Ruin Me: Alexandra (Marcienne Dwyer) might just be the world’s best girlfriend. (During this particular weekend anyway.) Her boyfriend Nathan (Matt Dellapina) has tickets for Slasher Sleepout – a cross between an escape room adventure and a horror movie LARP. When his best buddy can’t go, Alexandra fills in even though she is not particularly interested in horror films. She prefers lighter fare like Dirty Dancing but is willing to go the extra distance for a boyfriend she believes is really good for her. So she packs up her antidepressants and heads off into the woods with her sweetheart. They meet up with the rest of the group – a dysfunctional goth couple, a nerdy horror lover, and a quiet mystery dude – to wander the woods for the weekend to get the crap scared out of them. And that they do, but as the scares escalate, things begin to seem awfully real to Alexandra, and when a figure from her past shows up, she finds she has no idea what is going on.
Director Preston DeFrancis’ first feature film starts off really well. The Slasher Sleepout idea is fun, and while I would not want strangers trying to freak me out in the woods – I’m already looking for the killer behind every rock as it is – an outdoor puzzle room sounds like something I would be down for. Most of the characters besides Alexandra and Nathan are written and performed a little broadly, but it’s all in good fun. The film is self -aware and doesn’t hesitate to play around with a lot of the horror tropes we’ve come to expect in a horror film. (Considering they are at a horror movie campout, I would expect no less.) It’s when the film starts to veer away from the fun and changes gears about half way through that it doesn’t work as well. There are some plausibility issues, and it doesn’t take much to figure out the final twist well in advance. It’s not horrible, but it takes a really good premise and spoils it by failing to come through with an ending as interesting as the core idea. But, I’m curious to see what DeFrancis does next, and even though this isn’t as good as I wanted it to be, there’s plenty here to like.
Final Grade: B-
Ruin Me plays at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian on June 8th and 9th.
Good Manners: Ana (Marjorie Estiano) is a single pregnant woman in Sao Paulo who is in need of a nanny. She interviews Clara (Isabél Zuaa) for the position, but doesn’t seem too impressed until Clara helps her on the spot with her pain. Clara is quiet, poor, and black, and seems confounded by the rich white woman who welcomes her into her home. Ana is a wild child, separated from her family because she is bearing a baby not sired by her fiancé. (Now ex-fiancé.) Clara moves in with Ana, and is slowly charmed by her employer’s seemingly guileless honesty. But something is going very weird with Ana’s pregnancy, and as the moon gets full, she starts sleepwalking and going off her doctor-recommended vegetarian diet. (Let’s just say she has a taste for exotic meats.) Clara tries as best she can to help, but as her feelings for Ana increase, so does her confusion about what is happening. When the situation becomes clear, she must make a decision to embrace it or walk away.
Even more than Ruin Me, Good Manners makes a huge shift about midway through, and the resulting second half feels like a completely different movie. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to watch that movie at all. The first part of this movie is dreamily good, if a bit slow. Clara and Ana reveal themselves bit by bit, and as their relationship deepens, so does our dread. It’s pretty obvious what’s happening to Ana, but the interesting part is seeing how it plays out. How far is Clara willing to go with this whole thing? At what point will she balk and walk away, if only for her own safety? (There’s also some subtext about Brazil’s class system that’s pretty interesting.) And then something happens and the movie takes on a completely different tone and plot. And that plot just isn’t very interesting. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t give details, but the second half of this film just cannot support what went before. It feels like the directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra smooshed two films together instead of creating one cohesive story. There’s some good stuff here – especially the performances by Estiano and Zuaa – but it’s brought down by the glacial pace of the second half.
Final Grade: C
Good Manners plays at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on June 7th and SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 10th.