This film created a lot of buzz at Sundance and at SXSW, but we were disappointed. It’s labeled a horror film, and in terms of it exposing blatant racism at a university, it is. But the frightening events projected by Writer/Director Mariama Diallo of racial attacks Lancaster’s legends are known for, seem somewhat lame.
The film has a haunted location, near Salem Massachusetts, known for the Salem Witch trials. The scary events target the young African American female student in a dorm, and at the new female African American Master of this elite New England university.
Despite the earnest performances of Regina Hall as the Master Gail Bishop, the young Zoë Renee as new student, Jasmine, and Amber Gray as Professor Beckman, a professor who can’t get tenure because of her race, the message comes across loud and clear of rampant racism still present today in so many institutions. But the film just doesn’t play unusually scary. Everything seems to be telegraphed, with music or sounds building so you are ready for what you think, or know, may happen.
The story bounces between each characters’ trials and tribulations dealing with racist college administrators and other female students. It’s all very dark and depressing. And then old spirits show up with a Salem backstory which (or witch) doesn’t seem to help at all. We kept hoping for more, in depth, history, hysterics, and horror, that never seems to materialize. As expected, it all literally goes out the window. And the way Jasmine is treated seemed like same ol’, same ol’ racial behavior towards the new kid on the block in any school.
The film does show, once again, how, no matter what our educational institutions purport for respect and acceptance of people of color, there’s still a long way to go. Hall is always good, and she brings the right amount of tense drama to the film. This Master definitely shows that racism still lives on college campuses. But here, it’s depressing, a little disappointing, and neither scary nor enlightening enough to make you jump out of your seat.
Amazon Studios 1 hour 31 minutes. R
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