Audiences could not be blamed for presuming that the most terrifying of films are the ones that can be placed firmly in the genre of horror. However, often the most horrific films are the ones that have a basis in reality – the films that provide us with a startling glimpse of the future we could all face if the human race continues as it is and that the most evil of monsters are not snarling beasts or demonic creatures but actually human beings themselves. Executive Order is such a film.
Directed by Lazaro Ramos in his feature directorial debut, and adapted from the stage play Namibia, no!, Executive Order takes place in a dystopian future. Set in Brazil, the government has decreed a new measure that will force all citizens of African descent to move to Africa in an attempt to return them to their ‘origins’ and make Brazil an all-white nation. As the government employs ever more violent measures to round up the citizens, terror and unrest ensues, and families are ripped apart. Cousins Antonio and Andre take refuge in their apartment as they refuse to comply with the decree, adamant that Brazil is their home as well.
The film starts out almost satirically as the audience meets young lawyer Antonio, who is played by Alfred Enoch. Antonio spends his time filing multiple injunctions against the government’s new department, the Ministry of Return, whilst his journalist cousin Andre (Seu Jorge) antagonises officials with his off-beat interview style. Sensing that events may soon take a turn for the worse, Antonio and his wife Capitu (Tais Araujo), a hospital doctor, make an agreement to meet back at their apartment if anything should happen.
At this point the film has hints of promised terror but once the decree kicks in, the film shifts into thriller mode – now this is not just about what is right and fair, but it is about survival. Antonio, Andre and Capitu are being hunted, purely for the colour of their skin, and nothing they say or do makes any difference. Everyone, from a random guy they stumble across in the street to their own neighbour, is willing to shop them in and see them deported.
Executive Order boasts a great cast, but Enoch is definitely the stand out. His shift from thoughtful lawyer and doting husband to a man let down so very badly by his country and a husband desperate to protect his wife is completely believable and you root for him at every turn. In one scene, Antonio makes pleas to a gathered crowd, and it is a heart-breaking performance.
Audiences have seen how easy it is in real life to suddenly lose certain human rights in a few fell swoops. It only takes one government decision and suddenly many of us are forced to do things against our will and are terrified of what will happen. That is what makes Executive Order so incredibly terrifying and so incredibly engaging. What we might have once deemed as a fanciful view of the future and one that could only happen in the imagination of a filmmaker now feels like it could really happen and what would we do if it did? Executive Order presents humans as their worst selves and, rather unnervingly, it all feels a bit too familiar.
Drama, Sci-fi | Brazil, 2020 | 15 | Digital HD | 18th July 2022 (UK) | Signature Entertainment | Dir. Lázaro Ramos, Flávia Lacerda | Alfred Enoch, Seu Jorge, Taís Araújo | Buy: Prime Video