Writer: Nelson Caldas, Adriana Falcão, Guilherme Vasconcelos, Walter Lima Jr.(screenplay), Henry James (novel)
Cast: Virginia Cavendish, Mel Maia, Domingo Montagner, Ana Lúcia Torre
Running time: 106mins
Original Title: Através da Sombra
What’s the story: Straitlaced governess Laura (Cavendish) agrees to tutor the niece and nephew of a wealthy Brazilian coffee merchant. But, on the remote plantation where the children live Laura begins to suspect evil spirits lurk intending harm on the young ones.
What’s the verdict: Most adaptations of Henry James’ classic chiller The Turn of the Screw are indebted to Jack Clayton’s classic 1961 version, The Innocents.
While Through the Shadow semi-borrows a couple of visual cues from that film, it emerges as a wonderfully assured take on James’ story in its own right, boldly relocating the action from the English countryside to the coffee fields of South America.
And the hothouse environment of the plantation and the constant piles of burning coffee beans (a historically accurate occurrence when the Brazilian government attempted to boost coffee prices during the Great Depression) visualise the repressed passions of the prim and proper governess, adding another layer of hysteria to what Oscar Wilde called “a most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale.”
Through the Shadow also abides by the ambiguity of the ghostly goings-on in the original novel, the statuesque Cavendish moving from starched yet kindly to hysterical and unnerved as the spirits of the previous governess and a wild farmhand maybe haunt the living.
Maia and Valois make strong impressions as the children Elisa and Antonio, impish and mischievous, while Torre’s housekeeper provides worldly balance to the governess’ callow fears.
Lima Jr. delivers moments of spectral fright in the tradition of The Woman In Black and The Others, but, a Ouija board-alike scene aside, plays up the ambiguity of a supernatural threat vs. the fevered imaginings of a repressed, inexperienced woman.
The director also subtly loads the film with phallic imagery that cowers Laura as much as the spirits; tall trees and spiked railings neatly adding a subconscious level of sexual imprisonment and threat.
Layers of class divide and racial anxiety put further meat on the bone, delivering an intelligent, disquieting take on one of horror literature’s finest moments.
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