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‘Scales’ review: Feminist horror tale delivers the message but forgets the story

It takes a village.

Scales was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for this year’s Academy Awards. Though the film was not nominated, it is still one of the most critically lauded films of the past year. Hayat is a young girl who lives in a fishing village with a dark tradition. Every family must give one daughter to the sea creature that inhabits their waters. When Hyatt’s father refuses to participate, she is considered a curse by the villagers who urge her to sacrifice herself.

The film’s roots are based in folk tales with a strong modern message. There have been plenty of fairy tales that have conveyed a lesson about the strength of one woman. Few have been as powerful as Scales. The story is not just asking audiences to reexamine how women are looked at. It is challenging an entire patriarchal society.

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At least, that is what Scales seems to be attempting. It never quite delivers as strong of a message as it wants to in its short run time. It is definitely better than films that make social commentary just for the sake of it, but it also is not a narrative that will remain with viewers. The story is surprisingly sparse, leaving the movie as nothing more than its message.

What does stand out is how stylish the movie looks. Scales is visually stunning. Water glistens off the moonlight and the decision to go black and white adds to the shadow and light. The somber look of the film adds to the tone. Even when the plot falters, the film never stops looking gorgeous. Filmmaker Shahad Ameen shows promise in an uneven if gorgeous tale.

Scales opens in select theaters July 9

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