Regina Hall Stars in Sundance Campus Drama – The Hollywood Reporter

Ancaster College, the picturesque setting of Mariama Diallo’s feature film debut Master, boasts an impressive number of white alumni. The fictional alma mater produced an army of senators and two presidents – they could have had a third, but they rejected him, forcing that future head of state to come. Harvard. The university’s verdant campus is effectively maintained by an almost invisible staff, and its halls are vibrating with history. Most of the students and faculty are white, but occasionally a Negro joins the organization, although of course they never find their place.

The last few years have confirmed that the black American experience fits very well into the conventions of horror storytelling. Jordan Peele’s 2017 Movie Get out inspires a renaissance and a re-evaluation: Horror has become the preferred lens for investigating the country’s fascination and outlandish treatment of Black citizens. Diallo’s film, a witty thriller about three Black women trying to call a tony college home, is a solid addition to this recent tradition.


Key point

It’s bold, if not always satisfying.

Location: Sundance Film Festival (American Drama Competition)
Cast: Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Talia Ryder, Talia Balsam, Amber Grey
Director and screenwriter: Mariama Diallo

1 hour 31 minutes

Master Opens at the beginning of Ancaster College’s fall semester. The school is brimming with the young energy of a new school year, and it’s against this backdrop that we meet Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), a flamboyant freshman and one of the school’s few Black students. . She confidently walked around the campus during her first days. Nothing could pop this young black suburban Washington woman’s bubble – not even the inconvenient fact that her room, number 302, is haunted.

In fact, the entire institution is cursed. Jasmine learns of Margaret Millett, a witch who died centuries ago near campus and is haunted by her mostly white classmates. They happily reveal the details of the story through hanging pictures in ordinary dorm rooms or at merry fraternity parties. Diallo, whose short film Hair Wolf won the Sundance Jury Prize in 2018, has proven herself to be an adept architect of tense, witty shots, and she continues to demonstrate that skill in Master. Jasmine’s college experiences–maligned friendships, booze parties, and lengthy seminar discussions–represented with the precision of a person matched with fear and horror. potential consequences of these situations. Jasmine struggles to navigate the blunt way her classmates exercise their power and privilege; Their audacity worried her more than the rumors about the witch who marked a dead student each year.

In another area of ​​campus are two other black women trying to find their place: Gail Bishop, the school’s first black “Master,” or student principal, and Liv Beckman (Amber Grey), a retired literature professor. As part of her new role, Gail moves into a palatial home nearby, furnished with gilded antiques and reminders of the school’s racist history. On the other hand, Liv has difficulty initiating a campus diversification project and connecting with Jasmine, who she teaches. At the end of the day, the two women support each other – convening small talk sessions and running long walks through the lonely, winding woods of the campus. Their friendship is like those born of need and mutual recognition of loneliness.

Master arranged in chapters, each chapter is introduced with a title card of the text that reappears in the dialogue that follows. These tightly formed motifs form a fascinating study of the racist trends that are pervading organizations. They also offer Diallo room and DP Charlotte Hornsby to experiment with in this genre: An almost unsaturated, near-mute visual language coupled with liberal use of slow-track footage adds to the feel of the scene. relatively uncomfortable. Some scenes stay with you – such as the scene where Jasmine is surrounded by a group of white boys rapping along to a song, their angular faces contorted monstrously as they become so attractive they scream up “n — er”; or else as Gail celebrates her new position with her colleagues, their shrill laughter slanting the thin line between enthusiasm and sarcasm.

However, despite the power of these moments, Master – rich with jokes that cut through with stories in Wolf feathers or even segments Diallo wrote for Terence Nance’s HBO comedy Random hover behavior – not always satisfactorily coherent. The plot takes special paths as it intertwines the perspectives of three women, who have different experiences. Jasmine begins to have intense nightmares, which further isolates her from her classmates and makes it difficult to distinguish between real and virtual. Gail’s efforts to settle into her home life turn out to be a terrible exercise – eerie sounds reverberate throughout the dwelling and maggots infiltrate every crevice. Liv’s biggest stressor remains whether the school will grant her tenure despite her “thin” publishing history.

With all of these storylines, the movie can sometimes feel like a mix of competing narrative themes. Fascinating moments, such as Jasmine not receiving the same enthusiastic welcome as white students from the catering staff, promise exciting things that never come. Character development is lost as a result of ambitious storytelling; Save for Liv, the other women feel the unexpected mystery. Therefore, it is curious that apparently Jasmine’s white roommate, Amelia (Never Rarely Sometimes Always‘Talia Ryder) is more given than guaranteed.

As Jasmine, Gail, and Liv go through the fall semester, the strangeness of the campus becomes even more noticeable. Racist incidents happen, like someone carving “LEVEL” on Jasmine’s door and attaching a noose to the bill. Gail, who emerges as the central character of the film, is unfazed by these circumstances and does his best to crack the mystery. But she’s also dealing with her own issues – mainly trying to make sure that a rank dispute Jasmine initiated against Liv doesn’t ruin the latter’s chances of tenure. Master often flare up with an interesting tension as women struggle to understand what’s going on with them.

The film’s final moments do well for that tension, ending the third season with some surprising twists. Despite its hiccups and disappointments, Master creative in finding new ways to encapsulate familiar observations about American racism; Even the most cliched sentiments are conveyed with a nudge and a wink. When the credits came out, I couldn’t help but admire, above all else, Diallo’s daring. I have been looking forward to her next project.

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