Mariama Diallo’s debut feature Master follows two black professors and a black freshman as they navigate the tortured history and hostile environment of the predominantly white Ancaster College. As a horror film, Master leaves some of its scares on the table but it lays bare the darker truths of a country haunted by the ghosts of its past.
Celebrating its World Premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Mariama Diallo’s debut feature Master stars Regina Hall (Nine Perfect Strangers), Zoe Renee (Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase), Amber Gray (Ms. Guidance), Ella Hunt (Anna and The Apocalypse), and Talia Balsam (Mad Men).
Coming from both sides of the academic ladder, Master follows Jasmine (Zoe Renee), a fish-out-of-water freshman arriving for her first semester, tenured professor and Ancaster’s first black housemaster Gail (Regina Hall), as well as her friend and colleague Liv (Amber Gray) who is currently fighting hard for tenure herself so that she can fix the system from the inside. Trouble begins right away, however, as Jasmine learns about the ghost haunting her dorm room and its annual appetite for freshman blood.
“Master leaves some of its scares on the table but it lays bare the darker truths of a country haunted by the ghosts of its past.”
Across the quad, Gail is coming to terms with the fact the view is not always better from the top. She begins to doubt that she truly earned the position she has been awarded, while Liv struggles to show her worth as a member of the faculty. As the school year progresses and these three women feel the weight of Ancaster’s legacy bearing down on them the ghosts appear, threatening their success at this historic college.
What begins as a college campus ghost story gives way to a complex breakdown of the racial divide in America. Specifically, the gap present in academic circles and the upper class as a whole. The scope of this is maybe too large for a single film and in an effort to share the screen time between its three subjects, the film feels edited within an inch of its life. The scares rarely hit the mark, sadly, because you’re never less than a minute or two away from another time jump or a dramatic scene change.
The film juggles focus between three characters though Gail and Jasmine‘s stories are given precedence. Because of those separate but similar stories, and the nuanced complexities of their individual struggles, Master is a film that would surely resonate a little more deeply if it were a mini-series. At about the midway point, the horror elements are swept aside to make room for the film’s final statements. The finale isn’t without a punch to the gut but, personally, I missed the supernatural exterior enveloping this societal think piece.
“…Master is a film that would surely resonate a little more deeply if it were a mini-series.”
Regina Hall is a standout as the tortured housemaster. Longtime horror fans will no doubt recognize Hall as Brenda from the Scary Movie films, among her other comedic roles (including Adamma Ebo Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul which is also premiering at Sundance 2022) and it’s great to see her stretch out in a more dramatic role. She sells every beat of Master‘s surprise turns, including a raw reality check on the pressures and personal doubts that you don’t belong in a world you’ve fought so hard to break into.
Master barrels along like a truncated first season of your new favorite Netflix binge. Fans of Get Out will especially appreciate the cult-like vibe of Ancaster College and campus-obsessed horror fans will greedily eat up Jasmine’s haunted dorm room escapades. Not to mention a handful of creepy nightmare sequences. Master is an ideal movie for those late-night post-secondary discussions on what’s wrong with the world today because it’s got so much to say itself that even the film can’t contain it all in a short hour-and-a-half. As a horror movie, it doesn’t quite carry that torch all the way to the finish line but, admittedly, it is all in service of handing off one scary story we tell each other to another scary story that these characters are forced to live.
“Fans of Get Out will especially appreciate the cult-like vibe of Ancaster College and campus-obsessed horror fans will greedily eat up Jasmine’s haunted dorm room escapades.”
Mariama Diallo’s Master celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Click HERE to follow all of our Sundance 2022 coverage and be sure to let us know what you thought of Master over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
Review: MASTER (2022)
As a horror film, Master leaves some of its scares on the table but it lays bare the darker truths of a country haunted by the ghosts of its past. Fans of Get Out will especially appreciate the cult-like vibe of Ancaster College and campus-obsessed horror fans will greedily eat up Jasmine's haunted dorm room escapades. Not to mention a handful of creepy nightmare sequences.
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