Home Horror Entertainment News Sundance 2022: ‘Master’ Weaves an Insidiously Ambiguous Web

Sundance 2022: ‘Master’ Weaves an Insidiously Ambiguous Web

by Waylon Jordan

Sundance opened with a terrifying bang tonight with Master, writer/director Mariama Diallo’s feature debut.

Set in a picturesque New England college campus, the story focuses on three women: Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the campus’s first black “House Master.” Liv Buckman (Amber Gray) is a literature professor trying to secure tenure at all costs. And then there’s Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), a freshman girl who finds herself staying in a supposedly cursed dorm room.

The campus comes with its own haunted legends of a woman hanged for witchcraft, and a closed religious community of indeterminate beliefs who stand at the periphery of the events on campus.

When Bishop and Moore begin experiencing terrifying occurrences, the past collides with the present in ways no one could predict.

Diallo weaves a wonderfully ironic and ambiguous story that is quite frankly jaw-dropping in its veracity and tenacity. She presents a series of events that almost feel inevitable and dares her audience to flinch. Further, she dares us to prove her wrong.

No, I’m not going to tell you what happens. I don’t do spoilers. What I will tell you is that the horror in this film is transgressive in its banality, and will leave no few viewers scratching their heads.

If you’re the kind of viewer, for instance, who cries “woke bs” every time a horror film deals with racism, homophobia, identity,  or any other number of social issues as if the genre wasn’t crafted to do exactly that, then Master is not for you. If, however, you like to dig into why a story is scary and how a filmmaker conveys fear in a seemingly innocuous situation, then I urge you to see the film as soon as you can.

There are moments in this film where I wanted to shake the characters and beg them to pay attention to what’s going on around them. Synchronicities that line up and reveal a message are intentional. Microaggressions are aggressions. Conformity equals silence equals death.

As a whole, the casting here was phenomenal. Renee and Hall seem made for their roles. Both bring an almost wide-eyed innocence to their performances. The events of the film happen to them again and again until one almost has to wonder if they have agency at all. All the while, we want them to succeed, to survive, to thrive. As the horror closes in upon them, it becomes almost too much.

Gray, meanwhile, delivers a performance so subtle that it almost borders on abusive, and will no doubt become even more electric with multiple viewings.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe whose score beautifully augments the film exactly the way it should, never fully tipping its hat, but always keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat.

Master is a film guaranteed to provoke as much discussion as it does fear for the simple reason that it all seems so plausible. We see the horror from this film play out every day. It’s captured in viral videos, uploaded for a gawking public, and consumed without ever recognizing the events for what they are.

And here’s the rub, the real trick as it were. Diallo doesn’t try to hide any of this. She does everything but circle moments in red and say, “SEE, THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.”

Still, I predict a divided viewership where Master is concerned. This is how it will play out: 45% will totally get it, enjoy it for what it is, but get angry because it’s true; 45% will watch and get angry about the finger that Diallo is pointing, and that final 10% will be left wondering what the other two are so worked up about.

Take a look at what Diallo had to say about her film below!