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Executive Order review: Conceptually like The Purge with a timely racial twist [SXSW 2021]

Taís Araújo and Alfred Enoch in Executive Order
Taís Araújo and Alfred Enoch in Executive Order. Pic credit: Elo Company

The last four to five years have shown how dangerous a leader can be when taking executive action. The film Executive Order takes that scary notion and depicts it to its extreme.

Just like the DREAMers, kids who migrated here and not because they were old enough to make the decision, the thought of a political leader deciding a group of people have to leave their home is unsettling.

But what if that same idea was used to deport an entire race of people?

Here are our thoughts on Executive Order at SXSW 2021.

Executive Order review

The story centers on a dystopian Brazil, and the political outcry for reparations for using people of color as slaves has peaked when the government stops providing them.

Antonio (Alfred Enoch) – a lawyer in Brazil – tries to challenge this reversal but is instead met with the worst type of public official – the kind who wants white supremacy.

They present an alternative by making one of the most racist phrases into a policy.

“Why not just go back to Africa?”

Like any terrible public figure, they try to sell it to them as a good thing. They argue that sending Antonio, his wife, and his friends back to the home of their ancestors is what they want.

But what is not conveyed to those at risk in Brazil is they do not choose if the order is signed. And well, one can gather the nightmare that ensues.

This may sound like a dark and harrowing film but it’s actually played much lighter than one would expect. Part of this is due to Antonio and Andre’s interactions. Where another director would amp up the intensity, the dialogue and character exchanges contain enough loving energy to offset the fact it’s a story about a country trying to become fully white.

But as entertaining as director Lázaro Ramos tries to make the film, the extremities of Executive Order are insanely believable in the current political landscape. It’s easy to see how this might happen and how the language of such an event might be justified even in American politics.

This is especially true when the world has seen a rise in alt-right extremism with public figures such as Richard Spencer become spokespeople for candidates.

Back in 2017, Spencer himself spoke on CNN’S United Shades of America saying that he would love to have all races be compartmentalized into their individual countries and make America all white.

The point is, it’s a sad state of affairs when we can watch a film like Executive Order that is described as “dystopian” and say, “Yep, that can totally happen right now.”

There are some aspects of Executive Order that are hindered possibly by budget constraints. For one, if such an executive order were to be signed, protests would be massive. With the film having to use the resources given, it’s vaguely conveyed, but a higher budget film would sell the blowback on such a crisis more effectively.

What the film does convey strongly is the terror in the streets as those who are targeted get chased throughout the city. One scene involves Antonio’s wife Capitu (Taís Araújo) running through the city as others are chased and captured around her. It’s an impressive sequence for a film trying to convey dystopian aspects on a modest budget.

Alfred Enoch at Disney ABC Television Group TCA Winter Press Tour 2017
Alfred Enoch at Disney ABC Television Group TCA Winter Press Tour 2017. Pic credit: F. Sadou/AdMedia

Executive Order is also strengthened by a strong cast as well as great character writing. For most of the film, we are with Antonio and André (Seu Jorge) in an apartment, and the two of them bring levity to the material. Enoch and Jorge have tremendous chemistry throughout the film and share some of the best scenes.

But even beyond the confines of Antonio’s home, the film has multiple characters in various situations trying to survive. Director Lázaro Ramos manages to weave all these characters’ plots and storylines together while making us care about all of it. With screenwriting, this is not an easy thing to do.

It’s possible to find complaints with Executive Order, but the fact of the matter is, conceptually, this is a fantastic idea for a film. And given its limitations, it more than reached its potential. The film may leave some wanting more because a bigger budget would see this idea get terrifyingly realized. But for what it is, this is a disturbingly fun ride.

Overall Thoughts

For a dystopian film on a modest budget, Executive Order is a success. It takes a clever premise and effectively shows the dangers of putting the wrong person in power.

With a great cast, strong writers, and characters that viewers will care about, the film is highly engaging.

Executive Order director Lázaro Ramos has taken elements from films like The Purge and gives them a timely racial twist. And for such a disturbing concept, the film manages to be a thrill ride.

If readers like this review, check out our other reviews such as Islands (another SXSW offering) and Chaos Waking.

Stay tuned for more SXSW 2021 coverage at Monsters & Critics.

John Dotson is a film and television reviewer and commentator from...read more

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