Good Manners (also known as As Boas Maneiras) for me was a bit of a risky watch, just because I hate musicals for the most part. But even though there is a bit of singing, I would not class this as a musical. I still have very mixed feelings about it, but thankfully that’s not just due to a weird pet hate of mine. Good Manners is definitely a strange movie, but I don’t think I would call it a great movie.
Good Manners follows Clara, a nurse dropout unable to hold down a job, goes for an interview for a housekeeper/nanny for a wealthy single woman called Ana. Desperate for money to pay her rent, she is delighted when she secures the position. However, soon after moving in, she realizes that there is something strange with Ana’s pregnancy that makes her wander during the night.
This is listed as horror on IMDb, however, I would argue that it is more of a fantasy drama. There are a lot of similarities between Good Manners, and the filmography of Guillermo Del Toro, which isn’t a bad thing per se. But I must admit that I have fallen out of love with Del Toro’s work since I’ve got older, and the similarities between them do not endear themselves to me. But for fans of his work and other similar creatives, I am sure a lot of people will love this Good Manners with a fervent passion.
I don’t want to spoil a few things but if you have seen any of the posters, it is pretty clear that it involves werewolves. The beginner part is a slow burn, where we are introduced to Clara and Ana who are both lost and lonely souls in their own way. Even though they have an employer and employee relationship, they develop a bond turning this into a love story of sorts.
The first half definitely feels a lot darker in tone. We have the midnight walks, the killing of animals and the bloody wounds. The “sleepwalking” scenes are particularly effective, as you tense up wondering what Ana might do next. There is always a threat of something sinister about to happen. And that culminates into a pretty shocking birthing scene, that probably should be in a pregnancy hall of fame somewhere.
I found this first half to be particularly intriguing as we watch Ana and Clara, as it seemed to be heading for a completely tragic love story. But we only have a brief time with their characters, and it never reaches the grandiosity it should do. Isabél Zuaa plays her character a little bit too quiet, that it is hard to feel that there is any emotion brewing inside of her. If Ana had been able to open her up a bit so we could also learn more about her life, would have made the first half a lot more poignant. This would have perhaps bridged the gap between the very two different styles that have in Good Manners.
But even so, it is the second half that Good Manners lets us down. We have a big-time jump, of about 10 years later. Clara is now a nurse and seems to have got her life together with her nursing job and looks after her son, but she has a very dark secret. Even though the stakes seem a bit higher in this second half, the horror does not match up to it. It almost seems to be veering towards creepy horror, but then lands firmly in something more adorable than I am sure they intended. This feels a bit jarring as your brain is so used to seeing this in comedy horrors rather than a serious horror drama.
In this second half, Clara is a lot more emotive and we see her steeliness starts to crack a bit. This causes a bit more tension, which is much appreciated. But her son seems to be the weak link in this. Even though he is in a terrible position and quite young that he cannot fully understand the implications of what is happening, his personality is abrasive. His often legitimate complaints and Clara’s refusal to explain anything to him should make you feel sympathetic to him. But he rather comes across as a spoiled and entitled child, who just whines a lot when he doesn’t get what he wants.
There are a lot of issues or themes that are referenced in this such as class, race and sexuality. But for me, they never really made any definitive statement about it. I have to admit that this unequal power dynamic which was never really addressed did make me feel a bit uncomfortable, even if they were both sympathetic characters. I am a big fan of horror as a vehicle for societal statements, and unfortunately, Good Manners did not deliver for me. It just seems they often skirt around the issues, or leave it hanging making it feel rather pointless.
The ending is unfortunately quite predictable as its foreshadowing was in the works from the beginning. Though still deeply entrenched in love, I found the opposing decisions that Clara makes, makes this a messy ending. Clara struggles so hard to keep the secret and has a difficult choice to make, but she seems to choose both halves. At one point, seeming to reach a resignation and finality with it all, but then flip flops to a completely different direction.
It is such a shame, as this definitely had the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts, but Good Manners just cannot pull it together cohesively. The director and writer duo, Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas have the potential to craft something that will exceed all expectations if only they can find a bit more focus.
Good Manners is available to stream on MUBI in the UK and on Shudder in the US.