Updated: Apr 1
Director: Mariama Diallo
Writers: Mariama Diallo
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Drama, Mystery
Cast: Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Julia Nightingale, Talia Ryder, Talia Balsam
Release year: 2022
Runtime: 98 minutes
It is worth noting that Master was a slow burner, which is no fault of the film, but rather a result of the short attention spans we now have due to the high-paced digital realm. It requires patience, which is indeed an efficient horror film tradition. Set on a New England university campus, its pace evokes horror classics like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining which was made all the more eery due to its dryness.
The movie has been heavily criticized for its lack of clarity and this is valid. The unfortunate plot pitfalls are hard to ignore. The random ringing bells for example never lead anywhere. Jasmine who is played by Zoe Renee has a roommate who just leaves. She goes to a party and kisses a boy and that's that. The Rachel Dolezal-type character again seems to just exist as a buffer. The witch and the ghost of a slave woman appear seemingly just to add a sense of horror and serve no narrative purpose.
For most of the film, it is the ghost of Jordan Peele that makes the biggest impression. Mariama Diallo's directorial debut is very clearly heavily influenced by Peele films like Get Out and seems like a sign of a new wave of horror films that are rooted in race relations or racism. This is not a bad thing because of course we know throughout film history, many films and directors have started their own trends and genres. That is how culture operates, but again it is worth noting and even crediting Peele for establishing this new space for filmmakers.
Next, we have to talk about what a great job Regina Hall does. Of course, we already knew she was brilliant, so it is no surprise. But it is always a treat to see her in a dramatic role and it was refreshing to see her with natural hair. She was not basted in make-up and covered in weave. In this film, she played a realistic yet inspiringly aspirational role. While she is always entertaining in the Hollywood fantasyland, this role was meaty enough to allow her to bust her chops and prove once again that she is extremely capable. She is not just beautiful and funny, but she is a really solid actor who knows her craft well. I would as far as saying she carried this film.
This film was marketed as a horror film but the scariest part of it was how real it was. The strongest aspect of this film is that it rings true. I am always ranting about how racist academic structures are. Having been a student and a lecturer, I can attest to the fact that institutional racism is no fiction. This is something that happens to black academics all the time globally.
Black academics have not shied away from shedding light on this issue, so it is somewhat affirming to see it depicted so well in a Hollywood film. The moral of the story is that this monster that is academia and other institutions will not change. Black people globally are facing this machine of recycled racism over and over again and unfortunately, it does lead to alienation, violence, depression, and too often suicide. Within these institutions, all sorts of injustices are enacted on black people and it seems like no one really cares.
It makes sense then for black people to find other ways of sharing their experiences and film appears to be a generative space in which to explore this. Perhaps entertainment is the only space in which these issues can be addressed and received with compassion.
As Gail, Regina Hall's character says in the film, racism is like a ghost. It pretends to be over, but it still seeps into our everyday lives in the most devastating ways. You can't touch it, "You can't prove it", but you experience it nonetheless. Representing this reality then is an achievement. Producing films, art, texts about this lived experience is tangible and provides us with new opportunities to challenge the status quo.