Horror is an endlessly broad genre that creates terror from diverse material. The genre’s depth can prompt audiences to question if gore and vicious murders are worse than systemic oppression and an impossibly-balanced class structure where the disenfranchised continually grow more helpless. It’s eerie how a blood-thirsty monster and societal strife can be equally destructive to someone’s future. Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Bandeira creates something extremely special in Property, a home invasion film that’s dense in class commentary.
Home invasion films have become one of horror’s most popular subgenres because a home is universal. The safety and security that’s found in one’s house is a fundamental necessity that everyone values, regardless of their class. It’s terrifying to consider losing this sense of sanctuary and the strongest home invasion horror movies tap into this primal fear and push it to uncomfortable places. At this point it might seem like home invasion horror has been exhausted, but it’s a genre that can do a lot with a little when it’s at its best. Bandeira’s Property is so successful at what it does because it’s a home invasion movie that blurs the lines between who are truly the “invaders” and who belongs in this home.
Property is a home invasion thriller, but the movie conjures up an even more isolating and claustrophobic scenario with a character who is confined to a car for the bulk of the film. Property is not the first movie to turn to such a tactic and there are certainly shades of Cujo, Beast, and Don’t Breathe in its DNA, even if the wolf at the door here isn’t a literal monster like it is in these other stories. What’s most important in a film of this nature is that this stripped-down setting doesn’t drag or feel manipulative. Property is a perfectly-paced movie that doesn’t wear out its welcome or find ways to cheat out of its central premise. It’s an isolating magic trick that continues to evolve.
Teresa (Malu Galli) and Roberto (Tavinho Teixeria) are affluent one-percenters who make an innocent trip to their farm to tie up some loose ends. Roberto’s decision to sell his land puts him on a collision course with the property’s dozen rioting workers. Roberto loves his wife, but he supports her through detached displays of wealth rather than genuine understanding and empathy. Roberto’s cold nature creates grander problems for both he and his wife once they’re fighting for their lives from their now-displaced former employees.
Property’s message is anything but subtle, but it never feels like it talks down to its audience. The cinematography and visual language present repeated reflections of social hierarchy and wealth as those who are used to systemic oppression fight back and reclaim agency. The film reinforces that it’s impossible to truly escape from these themes. There are so many lingering shots of closed doors that symbolize security for those who are inside, but a lack of access for the outsiders. Property becomes a Russian nesting doll of vaulted safes.
Teresa and Roberto are meant to be sympathetic characters, especially Teresa, but the two of them still can’t help but reinforce their privilege at every turn. There’s a moment where Teresa errantly sketches a stranger that quickly sours and asserts that people are not just objects for the upper class to control and fetishize. Similarly, Roberto can’t help but reinforce his high status and respect, even when he’s completely lacking any power.
Property utilizes some non-linear flourishes to tell its story in the best way possible and make sure that it hits as hard as it can. The film effectively switches between perspectives to humanize the uprising laborers in order to present them as real people with desires and problems rather than just vicious threats. Property presents a reality where the only possible solution is through earnest communication – not violence – where these invaders and hostages strip away status and become equals.
Property’s roving point of view is one of the film’s greatest assets. It’s a curious perspective to adopt since those in danger are presented as the protagonists, but they’re actually the bad guys in this story, as frightened as they may be. All that these unleashed laborers want is a basic, understandable level of freedom, even if this desire slowly morphs into a more malevolent and baser agenda. Property is incredibly careful to present the laborers as the primary danger, but Teresa and Roberto would never be in this scenario if they genuinely cared about their employees and treated them like real people. When these characters turn to violence it’s because it’s the last resort and the only way that they can genuinely be free and be heard. It’s a decision that’s inevitable, but admonished. These are characters who attack out of desperation, not greed, opportunity, or malice.
This is an important distinction that solidifies Property as a story about the haves versus the have-nots rather than man against monster. Individuals who have been silent and robbed of a voice for years finally get to not just speak, but dominate the conversation. Even the understated title itself, Property, boils down the movie’s central conflict into a discussion about possessions, ownership, and privilege. In a nutshell, this whole horror show happens because some characters have access to property while others do not. It’s a message that’s terribly simple, but remarkably nuanced.
Daniel Bandeira’s Property is a taut evolution to the home invasion horror movie that finds huge success through its unwavering confidence and contemplative social commentary. It’s a bleak, gut punch of a movie that leaves its audience locked in a flawed society instead of an armored car, but the desired effect is the same.
Property premiered at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2023.
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