Master @ SXSW

An upping of diversity within the film world over the last decade or so has done several things. One, showing us what we have missed or could have had all along and another being different points of view within a variety of genres. One of the ones in which Black filmmakers have doven into big time. Now Mariama Diallo (first feature film) is here with her latest film reminding us that horror is not all about Jordan Peele.

Master combines the elements of horror along with social commentary. It is set at an elite New England university which happens to be built upon the site of a gallows hill from the time of the Salem witch trials. So as you see, creepy/horror elements – check. It also centers around three Black women who either work/teach/study at the uber white university, who are all going through things due to the colour of their skins.

Becoming a Master or Dean of Students is a big step for Gail Bishop (Regina Hall – Girls Trip, Scary Movie). Especially at Ancaster College, a very prestigious and very white university in the U.S. Her friend and professor of Literature, Liv Beckman (Amber Gray – appeared in episodes of Escape at Dannemora and The Underground Railroad), is up for tenure there. Finally, first-year student Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee – from television’s The Quad), who is an excellent student, is finding it hard fitting in. All are made to feel, in some way, like they don’t belong.

Though it is a bit of a jumbly mess, Master still manages to accomplish what it sets out to in that it makes you think while keeping you on edge. What might set some off would be the sometimes preachy nature of the film. That will distract you from the chills and creepiness, which is the main point of the film. Though it heavily leans on the truth that racism is everywhere and is not as overt as you might think. Just because people or institutions are being subtle about it does not mean that racism is not there. Here the big bad things are piled up as classism and whites feeling entitled also crops up. All this is done via dark visuals, intelligent storytelling that leans heavily on irony and upper level dialogue.

Race, class and gender – they are all there. The cast totally buys in. Especially the underappreciated Regina Hall. She is excellent here. Equally good at the jump scare parts as she is delivering the often zingy lines her character has to say.

The film premiered at Sundance this year and now is screening at SXSW. Two big festivals for its debut. Soon after it will be available on Prime Video starting on March 18, 2022.

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