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SXSW Review: ‘Master’

March 17, 2022Ben MK

Horror movies that seek to contextualize the topic of race in America comprise a fascinating subcategory of a genre that typically appears focused on fetishizing blood and gore. From Candyman to Get Out, these are films that have proven to have as much to say about society as they are intent on terrifying viewers. And in Master, writer-director Mariama Diallo gives audiences her take on the subject matter, in this tale of psychological horror about a Black professor and a Black student, both of whom are forced to confront the complicated history of the people who share their skin color.

Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is a tenured professor and a published author who has just been appointed House Master at New England's Ancaster College, where the leadership is trying to carve out a more diverse and inclusive future, despite the school's haunted past. The first woman of color to ever hold the title at the prestigious, centuries-old institution, Gail is welcomed by the faculty with open arms. However, when night falls and she finds herself dealing with some strange goings-on in her house on campus, Ancaster seems less than welcoming. It's an experience shared by first-year student Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) as well. After moving into a purportedly cursed dorm room, where a Black student killed herself some five decades earlier, Jasmine begins to see signs everywhere suggesting that something sinister is stalking her. Could both women's fears be attributed to some malevolent supernatural entity? Or could it be something distinctly less fantastical but no less insidious — a product of the passive aggressive type of racism that continues to leave its mark on communities across the country to this day?

Depending on the type of movie you're looking for, the answer may leave some viewers wanting more. Either way, there's no denying the powerfully resonant themes that give Master its suspenseful and tensely wound momentum. As the familiar saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem. Still, when it comes to institutionalized racism, sometimes diversity just for the sake of it can be equally nefarious.

Master screens under the Festival Favorites section at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 38 min.

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