It’s difficult to remember a first feature as bullishly confident as this horror-tinged social melodrama from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho. The opening credits alone make for a more riveting sequence than many filmmakers manage in their entire career: over a backdrop of clattering, building drums, we’re shown images of Brazil’s divided past: rich and poor families struggling to survive and make their mark on a new frontier. Cut to a swooping tracking shot of a little girl on rollerskates, and we’re away.
The film is set in the ocean-side middle-class suburb of Recife, where dwellings are split between well-off families and their servants. Most of the local houses and tower blocks are owned by Seu Francisco (WJ Solha) who, with his son, Joao (Gustavo Jahn), acts as a largely benevolent overlord in the neighbourhood. But when a series of burglaries set residents on edge, Francisco agrees to employ the services of security expert Cladoaldo (Irandhir Santos) and his gang of no-bullshit community patrolmen.
Essentially a bustling portrait of modern Brazil – with nods to past tragedies – ‘Neighbouring Sounds’ derives its power from Filho’s unusual directorial choices. Utilising techniques learned from horror movies – rumbling low-level noise, effective, unexpected shocks – he creates a sense of mounting dread and lurking evil. It doesn’t always work – the film promises a little more than it delivers, and at over two hours there are moments where it drags. But as a statement of intent, ‘Neighbouring Sounds’ is incredibly bold.