TEXAS, USA — The kids aren’t alright and their parents aren’t much better in “My Drywall Cocoon,” a morose existential drama in which it seems everything of importance happens before the opening frame and everything we’re left with is the inevitable, smoldering, drawn-out aftermath. Clinical in execution and calloused in its worldview, Brazilian writer-director Caroline Fioratti’s movie is kind of a murder mystery, if we wanted to be cheeky about it, though not a whodunnit so much as a howdithappen—and, just in case you’re still expecting a good time, bearing far less resemblance to the zaniness of Rian Johnson than, say, the lonely despair of Michel Franco. Bring a jacket. It gets chilly in here.
One narrative track of “My Drywall Cocoon” – premiering at this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival – unfolds in the corners and rooms of an impressive penthouse where Virginia (Bella Piero) is celebrating her 17th birthday. But things are off. The party is attended by companions exchanging side-eye glances instead of friendly hugs, the DJ is blaring music that sounds like it’s a million miles away and the lonely camera keeps its distance while peering at certain attendees. What does it know that we don't? A game of Truth or Dare might make for the most nerve-tightening scene in any other cinematic teen romp; here you suspect it’s exactly what might lighten up these teens, who opt instead to flirt with danger – quite literally – and seem hopelessly detached even before they start popping pills.
The high-class setting buttresses our anxiety, as if Virginia would find maggots spilling out of her birthday cake once she slices into it. She doesn’t get the chance. Fioratti doesn’t string her audience along, and just when we might wonder when something horrible will happen, we discover that something already has: Suddenly it’s daytime, light is flooding the apartment, and police are picking through. Virginia has been found dead, and nobody knows when during the party it happened.
The more shocking development for us, and the impetus through which much of “My Drywall Cocoon” tries to make sense of itself thematically, unspools through our observing how different characters respond. The most notable of them are Virginia’s boyfriend Nicollas (Michel Joelsas); her mother, Patricia (Maria Luisa Mendonça); and her friend-but-really-more-than-a-friend, Luana (Mari Oliveira). Perhaps it’s because Fioratti’s direction is too chilly to feign any warmth, but tragedy appears to be part and parcel with life in the massive condominium building they occupy.
It's a setting where dangerous impulsion lingers in the air like viral aftereffects of past transgressions. Certainly something about how the structure is shot and explored – claustrophobic tight shots limit our lay of the land, the occasional wide view underscores how far characters reside from the world below – makes it easy to imagine it sitting in another dimension altogether.
What Fioratti intends the governing storytelling principles of that dimension to be is tougher to discern. You can envision a more stripped-down version of this already narratively stripped-down film condemning helicopter parenting. Meanwhile, the directionless and impulsive youngsters are like a posse of urban lost boys, ensnared in high-class entrapment. Then again, they aren’t oblivious; one kid takes to destroying security cameras around the compound, an obvious and broad flare signal to constant surveillance and the lack of privacy. And if you were really keen to take up the lens, “My Drywall Cocoon” could play like a twisted pandemic metaphor, the self-isolation here a self-imposed path to personal destruction rather than neighborly goodwill.
“My Drywall Cocoon” might be about none or some of these things. But what leaves something of an impression – in our gut if not in our minds or hearts – is a suspicion that these characters don’t stand a damn chance if they ever decide to confront any single one of these things. “The Virgin Suicides” emerges, shakily, as the the most obvious point of comparison as "My Drywall Cocoon" ping-pongs between the events of the party and the next-day aftermath, but Sofia Coppola conjures up mercuriality with ease whereas Fioratti struggles to establish a perspective worth settling into before we start feeling the drag of the runtime.
Regardless, “My Drywall Cocoon” makes it difficult to feel for characters who apparently stopped caring very much for themselves long ago (Virginia is an exception, thanks to Piero’s sympathetic performance). “I think everyone is kind of a suicide bomber,” Luana says at one point, a My Chemical Romance-ready proclamation reflective of ideas that the performances or filmmaking can’t sustain. There isn’t much worth poking through here, but at least the people who live in this story seem to know that for themselves.
"My Drywall Cocoon" is premiering at South By Southwest 2023. It is awaiting U.S. distribution.
Starring Bella Piero, Maria Luisa Mendonça, Daniel Botelho, Mari Oliveira
Written and directed by Caroline Fioratti
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