Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Directed by Dennison Ramalho
Are you ready to see a viciously conceived and masterfully executed depiction of a brutally ugly side of the world?
Who needs that when we see the ugly side every day in the news, with stupid needless wars, corrupt politicians fueling cretinous hostility between nations and even people within their own nations, abject hatred, bloodlust, and wilful ignorance reducing global and regional matters of real concern into modern day coliseum fare… this stuff is the essence of the media projection in our daily lives in the West, and collectively, we are disgustingly immune to all of it. It seems to get worse by the day. The problem is that aside from the occasional aberration, most or all of these realities are presented with such carefully structured Orwellian language and selective imagery that we don’t see the blunt force trauma of any of it in the up-close and personal way that we perhaps need to in order to have an informed emotional response to it.
Are you ready to have those media-projection blinders ripped off for a second so you can see a horrific example of something real that you may well have been fundamentally lulled into passivity about? If so, step into the celluloid charnel house of Brazilian director Dennison Ramalho as he “commits” a short horror film designed to send your pulse racing while simultaneously sucking the oxygen out of your lungs. A hellish sequence of encounters between the Military Police and the innocent or not-so-innocent populace of Sao Paolo awaits you in his latest creation, Ninjas.
Those unfamiliar with Dennison Ramalho, school yourselves now. This man is the co-creator of 2008’s Embodiment of Evil, Coffin Joe’s gruesome and spectacular return to the silver screen. Narrative themes from that opus carry through to Ninjas, as do comparable dazzlingly dark and rich splashes of auditory and aesthetic style. Ramalho also made another revered horror short called Love for Mother Only which I have been told is essential viewing for fans of well crafted and cerebral extreme cinema.
(NOTE: Mild content/context spoilers follow, but they aren’t really deal breakers. If you really want to know less about Ninjas before seeing it, skip ahead to the 3rd-last paragraph and read the rest of the review after you’ve had a chance to see the film)
Deceptively titled, Ninjas is not a clash/bang action sequence with choreographed drop kicks and roundhouse Bruce Lee-isms. Ninjas refers to a group of corrupt cops donning masks in an appalling night raid in a São Paulo slum, an act allowing the most awful and base sadistic urges to play out under the veil of anonymity. Not that these military cops in Brazil need to be anonymous mind you – there is no effective check/balance system to bang up cops who cross the line there. The film shows that reality in a depressingly clear manner. It could well be that the masks were only used to make the experience more terrifying for the victims. That idea in and of itself is harrowing enough, but the fact that this story might be based on a true incident makes it all the more blood curdling…
Some of the brave souls who will step forward and take in this film might say “Gee I’m glad we don’t have that problem where I live!”, but that outlook is naïve. To me this movie isn’t just about police brutality in Brazil. Ninjas demonstrates an undercurrent we are all susceptible to no matter where we live. It’s that simple unfortunate truth that power corrupts, and left unchecked it only gets more sick and sadistic. Let the powers that be keep flexing their muscle and pushing you around, keep buying the propaganda that brute force is increasingly necessary, and the kind of extreme state-sanctioned sadism on display in this film could well be on your shores in time if it’s not there in some form already…
I think that what Ramalho is ultimately saying (besides his obvious yearning for this tragic problem in São Paulo to be addressed and resolved) is that we should all be vigilant in trying to make sure that people capable of what these cops in Ninjas are up to are never, ever put in any kind of uniform other than prison fatigues.
The other issue Ninjas addresses is how even a person of conscience can be transformed into a monster through faith. Religion is dragged into the concept and given a gleefully blasphemous spanking for its absolving power in acts of atrocity. One only needs to interpret the terms of religious absolution and define them in a convenient way to get around any terrible things they have done – this is depicted as a Christian flaw in Ninjas due to the Brazilian context, but again, this could be directed at any religion that can be easily used to justify or absolve atrocity. Ninjas also suggests that for those who would do such awful things, willingly or otherwise, even the dubious comfort of religious cleansing may not ultimately be enough…
This is only a short film, but every second of it is extreme to the point that it packs a bigger punch than any feature length film I have seen at Fantasia in 2010 (including the much discussed and dreaded A Serbian Film). A lot of nastiness has been committed to the screen since the torture porn wave broke, and I can’t say I am a big fan of this type of thing for its own sake. Martyrs was one exception I will champion due to its insight into what humanity is capable of. Ninjas is another brutally violent film with an important, serious point. What happens in Ninjas does happen in real life and is continuing to happen, that is what is most scary about it.
So I ask you again one last time. Are you ready to see a really ugly side of the world we live in? If so, strap yourself in because this movie is going to grab you by the hair, pry your eyelids painfully open, and push your face straight into some of the most nihilistic and upsetting moments you are ever likely to witness within a filmed narrative. And it will do so with gruesome style, delivering its message with total horror and zero compromise. Ninjas doesn’t dance around the subject with vague metaphors, and it doesn’t look away when the nadir of the brutality is shown. It tells us we have this potential within us, and part of what greases the gears is the fact there is always the cross to run and hide under if you are overwhelmed with guilt.
Ninjas is not for the faint of heart, so please proceed with caution. Ninjas will totally horrify you, but at the same time, if you have any semblance of human decency, this film will get you on side with the issues this director is rightly furious about. If what this film shows you does not get you on side, then I don’t even want to know who you are.
5 out of 5
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