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Regina Hall appears in <i>Master</i> by Mariama Diallo, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Movie Reviews

[Sundance ’22] ‘Master’ review: Old fashioned horror with a modern twist

Master and servant.

Master makes quite an impact in its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie is about three women at a prestigious New England university. Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the head of a house, Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) is a freshman adjusting to her new surroundings, and Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), is a professor looking for tenure. They soon see how the past affects their present.

Director Mariama Diallo’s debut feature has a tense atmosphere. There are shadowy figures and mysterious noises, but the majority of the suspense comes from the attitudes. Jasmine is one of only eight students of color. Liv also reminds Gail that the university is “running low on sisters.” Master does not have to work hard to show the color disparity. It is clear in any scene with more than one person. Where Diallo’s film really works is the interactions between the characters. There are never any outright racial slurs. Instead, there are subtle comments. A fellow student compliments Jasmine’s beauty by telling her she looks like Beyonce, for example.

It is in these moments the film is most terrifying. There is an underlying layer of privilege and racism. Comments are casually thrown about and decisions are made simply for optics. Meanwhile, the Black women of the campus work at trying to keep their wits about them. When Master does shift to traditional horror tropes, it adds to the atmosphere. There is some strong imagery that is reminiscent of everything from gross out horror movies to Italian giallos. Everything is woven in seamlessly and never diminishes from the message of the film.

The story moves at a careful pace leading to a dramatic twist. There is not even time to catch a breath as things head to its frenzied finale. The closing moments are an outpouring of emotion that drive home just how frightening and powerful the monster in Master truly is. Horror movies have long been known for their social commentary and Diallo’s feature is another fine example.

The Sundance Film Festival is online January 20- January 30. Tickets can be purchased and a full lineup can be found here.

master
[Sundance ’22] ‘Master’ review: Old fashioned horror with a modern twist
Master
Strong writing leads to a terrifying atmosphere. Has traditional horror tropes, but the most effective scares are much more real.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Great imagery
Structured like a classic scary story while effectively delivering important commentary
Great use of monster
Film's big revelation may be too much for some
8
Good

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