Regina Hall confronts the hauntings of her racist past

Screenwriter-director Mariama Diallo’s debut film “Master” doesn’t just blur the lines between the horror genre and institutionalized racism; it argues convincingly that there is no meaningful difference.

If ghost stories are all about people forced to live with a painful past, surely every inch of America is haunted. Racism is not a specter lurking in our attic; it is a malevolent force that infects every surface in the country, and it seems to thrive most in the monuments of white power.

“Master” tells the story of two women at Ancaster College, a fictional institution of higher learning as old as the United States itself. Regina Hall stars as Gail Bishop, the first black woman to become the “owner” of a boarding house, but her house is haunted by the ghosts of black women who formerly lived in the town. same house, centuries ago and without such power. .

Gail hears their bells at all hours of the day. Tucked away in the back corner of the cabinet is a racist statue. Maggots make their way through her school portrait. It may be her home, but she is not welcome.

Zoe Renee (“Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase”) plays Jasmin Moore, a freshman who drew a short straw and now lives in a dorm room that is allegedly haunted. Former students, especially Black women, met terrible ends in that dormitory, and it is said that every year the ghost of a witch – lay on the school grounds not long ago. centuries – choose yet another student to drive into madness and worse, seriously self-harm.

Jasmin’s first semester is a nightmare, and not just because she falls prey to vivid dreams of abuse and supernatural influence. Her every interaction on campus, as one of the few people of color in the student body, is tainted by racist assumptions, double standards, an atmosphere of superiority and perfectionism. total hostility.

In most movies, the murky atrocities and unsettling vestiges of a terrible past will suggest a terrible force, a personal instability caused by a bad presence. far outside caused. Toy “master” with this ability and leaves much of the film’s plot open to at least some interpretation, but ultimately insists that instead, the first action-thriller setting is clear. This horror is the daily life of people of color according to institutions, traditions. racist system. No ghosts are needed, whether they are real in this movie or not.

That is, without a pun, a haunting observation, and “Master” will get a lot out of the hypertext parallelism. It is not a winking motion picture. The only commentary it offers directly on literature refers to “The Scarlet Letter,” not supernatural thrillers. Charlotte Hornsby’s eerie cinematography extends to comfortable spaces, unoccupied buildings, elite social circles with questionable standards, and Diallo’s characters without definite goals. plot direction to distract them from their surroundings. They just want to live comfortably, have positive connections and do their thing.

Basically, they are so rational that every barrier that comes their way, regardless of size, is mercilessly existential. Regina Hall is a wonderful person, which is no surprise, and Zoe Renee’s gradual descent into a nervous state of anxiety is both real and deeply tragic.

One quickly remembers Sophia Takal’s clever, modern, innovative remake of “Black Christmas”, which also takes place at an academy for higher learners plagued by a history of oppression yet to come. discovered, whose sinister history has been actively guarded by a disturbed new generation of reverse-thinkers. But while Takal’s film argues that – if only in the most bustling universe possible, with just a crossbow – the evils of the past can be annihilated, “Master” doesn’t have the same optimism. so, and little expectation that the past will be told. , let alone meet some of the glory of justice.

“Master” is a serious, dull motion picture, but that is no critique. It has little to do with happiness, and who can blame it? By the time the credits were released, the film’s only possible conclusion had been made; it’s satisfying, but fitting, it denies the audience any real sense of catharsis. The issues are still unresolved. Every attempt to solve them has been sabotaged. But if nothing else, perhaps people would stop playing their petty, entitled, ignorant games.

“Master” premieres globally on Prime Video on March 18. Regina Hall confronts the hauntings of her racist past

Curtis Crabtree

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