We did not expect Gabriel Abrantes, a figure of young Portuguese auteur cinema, a tinkerer of heterogeneous fantasies, at the helm of a pure horror production, in this case a haunted house film, Jury Prize (tied) at the Gérardmer Festival, Sunday January 28. The postmodern bric-a-brac of Diamantino (2018, co-directed with associate Daniel Schmidt), is therefore followed by the rigors of the genre, its conventions too, thanks to a shift that we will perceive, on the part of a director with high added artistic value (exhibited at the Tate Britain or the Palais de Tokyo), either as a discipline or as the approach to a new market, and why not both.
Amelia’s Children , a Portuguese production speaking international English, stirs up the motif of the cursed lineage and fuels the Oedipal anxiety of origins. Edward (Carloto Cotta), an orphaned New Yorker tormented by his parentage, discovers a biological brother (the same one with long hair) located in a remote region of Portugal. He goes there with his girlfriend Riley (Brigette Lundy-Paine) for a stay in the family palace, where this twin watches over their old mother Amelia (Anabela Moreira). As soon as they settle in, guests are assailed by nightmarish visions and witness strange incidents.
Amelia’s Children places the fear in the place of the “Mother”, and even more on the surface of her face plowed by cosmetic surgery, evoking certain specimens for tabloids of the Iberian nobility such as the Duchess of Alba. Around the disturbing botoxed chatelaine is the vampiric fable of a dominant class monopolizing eternal youth by immolating its own offspring (incest and infant sacrifices are present). Sympathetic program which, unfortunately, mainly reveals the inadequacies of a lagging, laborious, repetitive staging that plays against the clock.
We also regret a largely under-exploited mansion setting (in fact an interchangeable backdrop), and family hauntings mainly woven through dialogue, rather than giving rise to striking images. Degenerate motherhood according to Abrantes is never fully embodied, except perhaps at the very end, during a falsely idyllic coda and a disturbing camera gaze.