Showing at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal, The Father’s Shadow (A Sombra do Pai), is director Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s second film. Set in São Paulo, Brazil, the film follows a young girl who turns to magic to bring back what was lost and rebuild the family she sees crumbling around her. The film is a brooding look at the slums of Brazil and what the people within do for the people they love.
The Father’s Shadow is a unique beast to tackle, and while it does fit firmly in the horror genre, much of what makes the world of the film so dark and depressing is the life the characters live. From the father Jorge (Julio Machado) a construction worker that recently lost his wife, to the daughter Dalva (Nina Medeiros) who is trying anything she can to keep her family together, loss and heartbreak permeate the landscape of these characters’ lives.
While the magic in the film is presented as real, it often plays as a last-ditch effort by people that are suffering. From the need for companionship to the remorse everyone feels at the death of a family member, The Father’s Shadow does a fantastic job of capturing a bleak world where there are no easy solutions, only suffering.
With the character of Dalva constantly watching horror films such as Night of the Living Dead, director and writer Gabriela Amaral Almeida manages to craft a deeply personal story that mirrors classic Hollywood horror while surpassing it in many regards. Grief, loss, and suffering may be the biggest fears in the world of The Father’s Shadow, but it is no less terrifying or damaging than the creatures of horror past.
As the film unfolds, it is clear both Dalva and Jorge are trapped in a spiral of grief, their true pain further amplified when Cristina (Luciana Paes) moves out, leaving them to deal with the pain on their own. It is here we see the level Dalva is willing to go to try and hold her family together and use the magic she has learned to bring all she has lost back.
It is also at this point in the film where Jorge witnesses his friend’s death, an apparent suicide, after a long talk about his want for excitement and death. It is here where we see both Dalva and Jorge haunted by their own spectres, each encompassing the loss and pain they feel at the world around them.
From the set design to the musical score, The Father’s Shadow manages to capture a tone and feeling of melancholy through every frame on screen. There is a lot of skill on display, building a world of desperate despair where the spirits of your past haunt every aspect of your waking life. It is often hard to watch, while at the same time offering a sliver of hope through the crushing pain.
There are hints at a much deeper story on the struggles of the people within São Paulo, with the construction site where Jorge works acting as a microcosm of the suffering people in the city, struggling to build what they may never enjoy. Yet that world is never fully fleshed out, leaving a glimpse of what could be. Even with these threads that ultimately never pan out, the slow look at a family in turmoil is masterfully crafted, with an ending that is as horrific as it is heartbreaking. While not everything works in TheFather’s Shadow, what does is worth the price of admission. It feels like at one point the film was filled with more social criticism, but the end result feels like a shadow itself, lacking some direction but beautiful in its own right. TheFather’s Shadow is a fantastic sophomoric outing from Gabriela Amaral Almeida, and I for one am excited to see what she does next.