An agonizing and affecting work of spectacular filmmaking, “My Drywall Cocoon” is an engrossing, unbearably tense Brazilian mystery thriller.
A young girl is dead, and all her friends seem guilty. Who killed her, how, and why?
The third feature film from writer-director Caroline Fioratti, My Drywall Cocoon, enjoyed its World Premiere at this year’s SXSW, one of the most important film and TV festivals in the world. It also had the distinction of being the only Brazilian production selected for the festival.
The riveting dramatic chiller revolves around an unexpected tragedy at a teen’s birthday party and the seismic aftershocks — as friends and family members are left to pick up the pieces while we, as viewers, attempt to piece together what happened and why.
The film opens with a beautiful young girl named Virginia (a captivating performance from newcomer Bella Piero) as she is getting ready for her seventeenth birthday party.
She bickers a bit with her mom, Patricia (played by dazzling Sundance and Cannes veteran Maria Luisa Mendonca), about her choice of party attire. Patricia offers an alternative from her closet because, as she proudly states — and not for the only time during the film — they wear the same size.
Virginia mentions her desire to go to college after graduation in Florianópolis with her best friend, Luana (Mari Oliveira). Her mom doesn’t want her to go. It’s too far, too dangerous, and she’s too young for that kind of responsibility.
Cut to the immediate aftermath of the party.
The guests are all gone except Luana (Lu). Patricia is sobbing. The cops are at the family’s penthouse. It’s clear something terrible has happened.
We don’t linger long before returning to the party’s preamble, where we start to take in just how privileged Virginia and her friends are. Her circle of friends consists of the children of the elite and wealthy, who all live in luxury condominiums.
Virginia’s family seems to be at the very top of the food chain, living in the penthouse suite. Her party is the stuff of celebrities and socialites, complete with a full bar and bartender, expensive decorations and lighting, a DJ, and a maid to cater to every whim of her and her friends.
Treated like a princess, it seems Virginia has everything.
Patricia wants to stay and chaperone the party, but Virginia begs her to leave. She finally acquiesces — a decision that will later haunt her.
As the party guests arrive, we meet the primary players, Virginia’s closest companions.
There is her best friend, Lu. We also meet her childhood friend Gabriel (Daniel Botelho), who is now a bit of an anti-social troublemaker and someone Lu openly mocks. But he’s also the son of Patricia’s best friend, and Virginia insists she had to invite him. Finally, there is Virginia’s handsome but toxic boyfriend, Nicolas (Michael Joelsas).
Each has something to hide, and no one is exactly who they appear to be.
The film cuts back and forth rhythmically between the events of the party and the 24 hours that follow Virginia’s unexplained death.
There’s a stunning contrast between the high-energy, frenetic atmosphere of the party — with its pulsating music and a sea of bodies bathed in blue and red lights — to the near-empty, stark white, and eerily silent penthouse following the tragedy.
The score by Flavia Tygel is exquisite.
At times, it’s melodic and ethereal. Other times, it’s discordant and eerily haunting. Always, it’s tonally perfect and brilliantly reflects the tone and emotional gravitas of the scene.
As the party gets underway, Lu pulls a bottle of pills from her bag and suggests they will help elevate their moods. The pills have been stolen from Lu’s mom, who suffers from depression, and the medication helps “take the sadness away.” At first, Virginia refuses but later gives in.
Clues about what happened to Virginia are revealed ever so slowly, piece by piece, as we watch everyone wrestle with guilt and potential blame for their role in her death — whether active or passive.
Gabriel acts out, destroying condo security cameras and visiting shady forums where he asks for advice on what to do if you’ve committed a crime. Nicolas tries to pretend nothing is wrong while dealing with his own dark secrets. And Lu must face the terrible truth that her decisions had dire consequences.
But Patricia’s grief and overwhelming guilt at not being there for her daughter are the most palpable and gut-wrenching. And Mendonca teaches a master class on how to convey unimaginable suffering and emotional torment.
There’s a scene in the film that made me gasp; it was so potent and painful.
Virginia’s father (Caco Ciocler), an influential judge who has been away on business in DC, returns home upon hearing the news of his daughter’s death.
When he enters the room, he locks eyes with his wife at the other end of the room. His eyes are filled, not with love and compassion, but pure venom. Hers are filled with fear.
Patricia approaches her husband. He embraces her coldly and half-heartedly while rage consumes him. After a minute, he slaps her hard across the face and proceeds to berate her for allowing something so awful to happen. He blames her and shames her with merciless cruelty.
It’s brutal and gripping.
Ciocler and Mendonca shine, and their raw emotions are visceral and profoundly affecting.
And several other scenes are just as devastating, highlighted by equally stellar performances from the core cast.
This achingly beautiful film addresses issues of race, spousal abuse, child abuse, social media addiction, body image, toxic masculinity, cutting, shame, closeted sexuality, loneliness, neglect, and desperation to be loved and accepted.
Much of the suffering is only hinted at, and many secrets remain hidden or open to interpretation.
But we are given enough to know that no one in this palace of dreams is truly happy, and no amount of money is absolving them of the price they must pay.
In this world, everyone is damaged. No one or nothing is a safe space.
Some scenes are absolutely mesmerizing, with performances that will bring you to tears. And some sequences are spellbinding in the masterful way they are shot and edited.
The final reveal left my heart in my stomach.
It’s a tough watch, but My Drywall Cocoon is extraordinary in every way and will keep you glued to the screen as you desperately search for answers to questions you wish you never asked.
Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5
The Angry Princess