Sundance 2022 Premiere: “Master”
The past and present haunt the campuses of Anacaster, a fictional prestigious college in Mariama Diallo’s debut feature “Master”, an exciting and completely unique project.
An excellent Regina Hall (one of cinema’s most undervalued acting treasures) stars as Gail Bishop, the first Black Master of the college. The school has a history of being predominantly (too?) white and the administration has chosen Bishop for the position to show more diversity on campus and in their staffing.
The not-so-closeted bigotry among the administration is obvious, as Gail is congratulated by her peers who compare her to Barack Obama, apparently the only positive example of Black mobility the white higher-ups can seem to recall. At the same party, she discovers a racist statue that seems to have been put away due to her presence.
As Gail Bishop’s struggles start almost immediately, the same goes for freshman Jasmine (a perfect Zoe Renee), a Black student who deals with racist comments and situations from her first moment on campus.
The unsettling atmosphere begins immediately, as Jasmine is given room 302, a room that is supposedly haunted. A history of suicides is the ugly lore of Jasmine’s new digs, as the first Black student at the school hung herself in the room.
Charlotte Hornsby’s camera and Production Designers Meredith Lippincott and Tommy Love go to work instantly on creating a truly creepy ambiance. Anacaster’s long dark corridors and eerily lit buildings are representations of the dark history that looms over the school.
For Gail, Jasmine, and Professor Liv Beckman (Amber Grey), the terrors not only come from the privileged white upper-class students and faculty but from an evil that exists within the grounds. This is not a horror you can’t see. For these characters, it is very real.
Echoes of “Rosemary’s Baby” and films such as “Lords of Salem” and Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman” abound as the school’s sinister past begins to reveal itself to Gail and Jasmine through visions and inescapable night terrors. Diallo refuses to allow her audience a reprieve from the horrors. Around every corner, behind every door, and even on the open greens of the quad, a dread stalks the film’s characters, and impending doom clouds them in every moment. We cannot trust the quiet nor what we see.
By the prickling of my thumbs, there is witchery afoot. Its place in the scheme of things I shall not reveal, nor will I speak to the level on which it is used, but the addition of hooded and cloaked evil and its parallels to the themes found within the film is quite effective.
Speaking to the film’s constant creativity, one of the most interesting aspects of the piece is how the title takes on different meanings as the film progresses while racist phrases such as “you people” are cleverly turned upside down. Nothing is ever as it seems.
Diallo’s screenplay takes on a lot and executes it flawlessly. This is a film that tackles systematic racism, class, identity, discrimination, and more, always wrapping everything in a ghostly and disturbing tale with the director in complete control.
Executed with supreme skill, Mariama Diallo’s “Master” is a superior Horror film driven by women in front of and behind the camera. This is one of the best films of this year’s festival.
Great news! Amazon has picked up the film and will premiere it on Amazon Prime this April 18th. Congratulations to the filmmaker and the cast.
Written and Directed by Mariama Diallo
Starring Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Amber Grey
NR, 91 Minutes, Amazon Studios