March 12th, 2022
STARRING: REGINA HALL, ZOE RENEE, TALIA RYDER, AMBER GRAY, BRUCE ALTMAN
DIRECTED BY: MARIAMA DIALLO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
There’s no doubt that Get Out lit a spark, reviving a trend where the horror genre reflected a true image of race in America, where the power of a story, and the terror we see, can wake us up to harsh realities. That cultural impact wasn’t fully sustained but it does continue to arise in great movies such as Mariama Diallo’s directorial debut film- Master. It involves a woman who is named the new headmaster of Ancaster University, a New England college, tasked with being a middle ground for students, and viewed by her peers as a much needed influence to diversify the campus culture. Along with her story is the parallel of a freshman on campus, one of the few Black students, isolated, and dealing with her own unique set of challenges. There’s also a terrifying entity, a ghost, or an old spirit that begins to traumatize her, only nobody around is willing to believe it. What unfolds in Master is a horror film set to the experience of living while Black, a terror that two women in different stages of life must contend with, and a constant fear that surrounds them. Master is a psychologically frightening tale that once again highlights the powerful messages we can learn about one another and new evidence that Regina Hall is good in everything.
The moods of the two characters could be described as bright eyed and filled with excitement, both with the promise of a new venture. Gail Bishop (Hall) is a veteran of college learning, excited to be the first Black woman in the role of headmaster, and delivering a speech to the student body with promise of a new chapter. We then see Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), a timid freshman, gently making her way to meet other students at the school’s orientation. To the surprise of others, she has the same dorm room as a previous student that killed herself, a room that many believe is haunted. As she starts her school year, she can’t help but notice how some students act towards other Black peers, moments where a librarian accused her of stealing a book, and subtle mentions of her existence as “different” from anyone else. And then Jasmine begins to have dark nightmares, visions of deformed faces on paintings, and things lurking under her bed. Those nightmares become reality, when Jasmine starts being tormented with racist acts on campus, such as jokes to her face or worse a noose on her door knob. The horrific terror is surrounding her, in her conscious and subconscious.
The events that occur for Jasmine place added pressure on Gail to be a neutral ground for all students but to also take swift action against the real mistreatment of Jasmine. It’s within this struggle where Master thrives, being not just a story that highlights the importance of speaking up in the face of racism, but how racism is a mixture of blatant and subtle strokes of bigotry towards others. Gail battles the views of her own peers that don’t want this to be an “issue”, while fighting to choose between what is right vs. the pressure of public appeal. Sometimes the right thing is hard to do, but Master is a film that highlights how it’s not enough to put people in positions of power, especially if that power cannot be used to protect those typically mistreated by the systems in place. It’s on the faces of Regina Hall and Zoe Renee where we glimpse two generations of women, both impacted by mistreatment, often in a place of discomfort from the moment they step outside the door, and often viewed as a symbol instead of an actual human.
It’s in that portrayal of these two characters and the original screenplay by Diallo that shines the brightest in Master. It works best when the horror is set in the reality of a scenario, where Jasmine is butting heads with her roommate (Talia Ryder), or when we see hints of racism from her own teacher Ms. Beckman (Amber Gray). There’s also a fascinating creation of tension between the few Black women on campus, where the teachers seem afraid to step on the toes of their white peers, or go against someone that would be their ally. What becomes increasingly evident, is that it leads to Jasmine’s real terror being neglected.
What rises to the top are two stellar performances from Zoe Renee and Regina Hall. The two actors are on opposite spectrums, one a new talent, still rising to a level of stardom, while Hall is at her highest point. Hall’s performance in Master is some of the best work in 2022 so far. The major flaws of Master align in the story structure, where it feels like three different stories take place- with Jasmine, Gail, and Ms. Beckman- all having separate issues, with all three connected, but not in a fully realized way. I would also have liked if Diallo chose to keep the supernatural part a more focal point or to not have it at all. Ironically, it is the non-supernatural parts that are the most terrifying of all. Beyond that, this is just a fascinating, original, and unique directorial debut from Mariama Diallo. She is the new voice, creating an original piece of horror that is rooted in reality. Master is a scary glimpse of someone else’s reality. A chance to walk in the shoes of others and see that the horror we think can only exist in our dreams, is actually waiting right outside the door.
MASTER IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON AMAZON PRIME
Written by: Leo Brady