Dalva lives with her father Jorge and her aunt Cristina, Dalva’s mother having passed away. When Cristina moves into an apartment with her on/off boyfriend Elton, Jorge’s health – both mental and physical – begins to deteriorate and it falls to Dalva to take on the role of the responsible adult in the household.
As the situation grows increasingly grave, is there any way to make things how they once were? Does the answer lie in Dalva’s “gifts”, even though Cristina has warned her niece not to use then?
Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s film weaves in horror elements throughout its story but primarily it’s a kitchen sink piece mixed with a look at how a family deals with loss in very different ways. The supernatural is always present and the everyday means by which rituals are carried out – to protect someone, or maybe to ensure a romantic relationship will be successful – gives an intriguing glimpse into the lives of that strata of society. There is the odd splash of blood and gore but that’s mainly confined to the films Dalva watches on the TV (some choice cuts from Night Of The Living Dead and the original Pet Sematary, if you’re wondering).
For anyone whose main diet of fright flicks is brash, studio-based, jump scare fodder, this is the antithesis of that. The Father’s Shadow is so unrelentingly downbeat that even I was hoping for some levity along the way. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal there’s precious little of that. Just when you think it isn’t going to get any more grim, it does.
The fact that there’s an imperceptible but almost constant low hum of fear during the proceedings means that on the few occasions which see the dread dialled up, the frights really land. There’s a long stretch of quiet gloom which is punctuated by an absolute seat-grabber of a jump scare. It’s the only one in the entire movie and although it doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere it’s a unexpected jolt because the previous hour has been so muted in terms of in-your-face terror.
Nina Medeiros is terrific as Dalva and with so much of the film resting on her young shoulders I’m pleased to say that she provides the movie with the focal point it needs to keep the viewer on track as the pace is on the sedate side and the mood almost overwhelmingly morose in places. Julio Machado cuts a tragic, pathetic figure as Jorge, a ghost of a man who’s devastated by the passing of his wife. His gaunt, spectral appearance and his inability to deal with even the meagre demands of his day-to-day life is in stark contrast to his healthy, strong, battle-ready daughter.
The story is slight, that’s true, and there’s an argument to be made that the first two thirds suffer from a little treading of water before matters come to a head and the plot heads in the direction we’ve been suspecting it will go all along but the final act ups the drama, throwing in a striking, nightmarish image courtesy of a scene set on a construction site, and pushing Jorge and Dalva together in order to confront each other about feelings which have been left unspoken for too long.
A drama with a delicate infusion of horror rather than a shriek-filled spirit show, The Father’s Shadow still deserves its place in the genre because of its uncanny elements and the tale’s conclusion, which has extraordinary ramifications for all concerned.
It may be a little too measured for its own good and the deliberate pacing might be off-putting to some but it’s a movie which has enough affecting and/or chilling moments for it to be worth an hour and a half of your time.