Morbido 2020 Review: THE CEMETERY OF LOST SOULS (CEMENTERIO DE LAS ALMAS PERDIDAS) Takes The Long Way to Tell a Short Story
Brazilian writer-director Rodrigo Aragão revisits the Book of Cipriano from his previous film The Black Forest in his new film The Cemetery of Lost Souls (O Cemitério das Almas Perdidas)
It all starts with Satan making a Jesuit priest write a book that wields great power. The church confiscates it but another priest, Cipriano, steals it and flees. Cipriano uses it to save some sailors one stormy night at sea, at the cost of a little blood, only a little, and he becomes their leader. They land ashore near an ominous looking castle which they make their home.
Cut to a small boy chases his runaway kite through the forest to a creepy cemetery at the foot of the same castle we just saw centuries before. He falls, knocks his head, and has visions of an indigenous girl. Then a young man named Jorge wakes up from this dream, one that he keeps having over and over again.
We discover that he is part of a travelling sideshow that pulls into a small town for their next gig. That night they provoke the wrath of the local zealots, appalled by their sideshow antics and acts against God. So the zealots do the right thing, attack them and box them up in coffins then take them to the cemetery and leave them there.
From here the plot gets mostly lost and spends far too long back at the origin story of Cipriano and the sailors. Another, more devoted monk, Jaoquim, takes a keen interest in an indigenous woman Arya. She was captured by the sailors after they carry out an act of genocide and wipe out her village. He teaches her English - in record time - and she convinces him to go seek help from a more violent tribe who attacks the castle. Cipriano uses the power of the book to empower his dying followers to fight back and fend off this murderous tribe as well. It is this power that keeps them alive for the rest of time but restricts them to the castle grounds, which leads us back to the present time where our troupe lies in coffins at their front door.
You see, Cipriano and his monsters demand a blood sacrifice at every full moon. Of course they do. And the troupe must follow the lunar cycle to a tee, because woe is them, its full moon time, baby. There is a reason they came to this village, on this day, but it doesn't involved Jorge.
Ah. But here is where the story finally comes around full circle. The girl Jorge was dreaming of is actually Arya. Nothing in the story has even hinted at that until well into the final act. So they have a connection and he is suppose to save her, right?
Well. Maybe? He and another surviving member of the troupe kind of defeat Cirpriano and his followers, after a great show of violence that is admittedly very cool and bloody. But any good follower of the good book knows that there is power in the blood. And what about the not so good book that Cirpriano uses? That blood also wields binding power and Jorge's ending becomes bitter sweet.
So this tender moment between him and the other survivor is all for naught and he must let her go off on her own. He goes back inside the castle and sleeps, dreaming of running through the fields outside the castle grounds, as a young boy with Arya.
The issue here is that there has been nothing for the viewer to emotionally connect to because of how much time is spent on the story of Cipriano. The book is evil. Gotcha. Cirpriano is evil. True. His followers aren't so great either. Ditto. Is that a love story developing between Joaquim and Ayra? Maybe? But probably not because he is a good Jesuit and when have priests ever succumbed to sexual temptation? Oh. Nevermind because Cipriano and his followers are off killing again, proving once and for all that they're really, really bad. Yeah. We got that. Thirty minutes ago. This hold over of the obvious is frustrating. But the story keeps going back to it! It cannot draw it's own attention away from it.
(Snaps fingers) Hey. Hey! Over here! What about Jorge and his dreams?
We'll get to him in a moment.
Okay. But, he's been lying in this coffin for so long now and you brought up the dreams he's been having. Are they connected?
Maybe, I won't tell you until later.
How much later?
When I'm ready. I'm not done focusing on how evil these guys are over here.
Jorge is supposed to be our emotional anchor, whom all out hopes and fears are meant to rest on. He is the one who dreams of running around the grounds of the castle so he must be linked to it all, somehow. But then we hardly ever see him, nor is he given anything to do for most of the story. Even when the story shifts to the present eveyone else in the troupe has the lines or the developing moments that push the story forward.
The movie has identified the villain. It identified the villain very early on, within minutes of the story beginning. It fixates on that so much that there is very little for us to bank on emotionally apart from repulsion at their heinous acts. Meanwhile, we have Jorge with little or nothing to do while anything the story deems more important than the connection his dreams have to all of this happens around him. The reward for all this confusion is bunch of really good gore effects at the end. Is that enough to save the movie?
There's nothing decidedly wrong with the workmanship here. One gives latitude to small productions who make good on their desires to dream on a bigger scale. One forgives the dodgy compositing in the visual effects. The makeup effects are decent. If you came for blood and gore there is a lot here to appreciate. No throat shall be spared. It's easy, as long as you entertain us we'll believe everything you put up on that screen.
The Cemetery of Lost Souls starts off deliciously campy, like a film that Corman or Hammer would have produced in their hay days. From there though it chooses the labor the fact that their bad guys are truly bad. It forgets that there is a soul to this story, a soul that has a connection to the backstory. The film seems to love it's villains more than it's hero, but you need the hero to be the ballast in your recovery from witnessing all this evil. The Cemetery of Lost Souls somehow forgot that along the way.