A tense thriller from Brazil about a kidnapping where nothing is quite as it seems

The Miami HeraldJuly 17, 2014 

At the start of "A Wolf at the Door," Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) and her husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) panic after learning a woman claiming to be their neighbor picked up their 6-year-old daughter from school and vanished. Pressured by a detective, Bernardo confesses to being in an affair with another woman, Rosa (Leandra Leal). But he insists Rosa, who is sweet and gentle and kind, couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the kidnapping.

Still, his mistress remains the cops' main suspect, because if not her, then who?

One of the most satisfying things about writer-director Fernando Coimbra's Brazilian thriller is how subtly the film changes perspectives and points of view to keep you intrigued in a story that appears to be soap-opera simple. The tricky script is so carefully constructed that when the movie reaches its unexpected end, you're tempted to go right back and watch it again to see just how Coimbra did it. The screenplay is fiendish, clever and airtight: Like a magician, Coimbra uses sleight-of-hand, but he never cheats, and the film is even more engaging on second viewing, when you really know what's going on.

Despite its thriller veneer, "A Wolf at the Door" is more of an examination of adultery and its consequences, both on the married couple and the outsider who comes between them. Bernardo and Sylvia live a quiet, normal life in Rio de Janeiro with their daughter. Although she's suspicious, Sylvia lacks proof to accuse her husband outright of cheating on her. Bernardo, meanwhile, doesn't seem to give his adultery much thought, enjoying the heated sex he has with the pretty Rosa during their encounters and otherwise rarely paying her much thought.

This is the sort of scenario that has fueled countless movies, but Coimbra takes it in an unusual direction, crafting a psychological study of people whose sanity is far more fragile than it appears. He also solves his central mystery within the first 30 minutes, but he leaves nagging little questions hanging, and when the answers finally come, they are much more shocking than anything the film had previously hinted at.

"A Wolf at the Door" is a cautionary tale about who we let into our lives and how close we let them get: According to the movie, we're all little pigs, and wolves are lurking around us, ready to pounce when we least expect it.


3 stars

Cast: Leandra Leal, Milhem Cortaz, Fabiula Nascimento.

Writer-director: Fernando Coimbra.

An Outsider Pictures release. Running time: 101 minutes. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

Not rated: Vulgar language, nudity, explicit sex, brief violence, adult themes.

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