Release Date: 03/18/22
Studio: Amazon Studios
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"Two African American women begin to share disturbing experiences at a predominantly white college in New England."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
Master is the feature film debut for writer and director Mariama Diallo who crafts an interesting first effort. The story takes place at a prestigious New England university called Ancaster where the majority of the student body is white. Jasmine (Zoe Renee) is a freshman who is eager to make new friends and pursue her academic interests. Right away it’s clear that she’s in for a surprise. The university’s first Black student was found dead in the dorm room that Jasmine is assigned. Although it was back in the 1960’s, it’s still eerie. Couple that with the whispers of myths about a witch who haunts the dorm and Diallo sets up an intense story.
The story is centered on Jasmine, but her story is intertwined with two other Black women at the university. Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is a professor who has been newly appointed as House Master of Jasmine’s dorm. For those who might not be familiar, House Masters are faculty members who oversee student residencies. They are indeed a thing in the United States, mainly at prestigious universities. If it sounds a bit slimy that’s because it is.
Gail is the first Black House Master at Ancaster, something the other faculty don’t let her forget. She is one of only two Black faculty members. The other is Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), a professor who throws Jasmine’s world into disarray when she flunks her on an assignment. Liv has her own battles as she is fighting to get tenure. Diallo weaves these stories together well and builds tension as we follow each of them attempting to navigate the deep-seated racism of the university.
What is most intriguing about Master is it showcases that reality is often scarier than any imaginary witch or supernatural force. The racism on display is sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle, but it drastically affects the lives of the three women at Ancaster. It’s impossible to watch Master and not think of other horror movies that have race as a central theme like Get Out or Candyman. Diallo captures the essence of those movies but doesn’t quite manage to make the impact that they do.
The pacing is a little off and the infusion of “scary” elements gets a little stale after a while. The reason Master is so compelling is largely due to the performances of Hall, Renee, and Gray. They each put in incredible performances that show what it’s like to battle everyday racism and how exhausting it is. Hall in particular consistently shows that she is one of the best actors working right now. Renee shows off her abilities by holding her own in scenes opposite Hall.
Master is an excellent first effort from Diallo with a story that has a variety of themes and messages that are all worthy of examination. It’s an excellent portrayal of what it means to be Black in America and how racism penetrates all aspects of life but particularly long standing institutions like academia. Master is certainly worth a watch and Diallo is a director to put on your radar.