Miriama Diallo’s “Master” serves up a blend of suspense, drama, horror, and comedy to effective results led by the commanding performances of Regina Hall and Zoe Renee. Hall plays Gail Bishop, a newly appointed House Master at Ancaster College. It’s a predominately white school and Gail is forced to deal with various levels of racism. Much like new student Jasmine (Zoe Renee) who just so happens to have been placed in the dorm’s infamously haunted room. That is where this film blends systemic racism, and the folklore of the Salem Witch and while the tone works in spots, overall, I felt it was a hindrance to the potential of the story.
With performances from Hall and Renee that thrive on emotional intensity I was hoping this story would lean more into the suspense and mental stress than it did the horror. This story is compelling, it’s filled with appealing characters, and the subject matter is conditioned for psychological tension. So, for that aspect the Blumhouse-esque horror set-pieces felt a bit beneath what this movie was capable of delivering. I was routinely invested in these characters, and the uneasiness felt from the ‘non-horror’ moments was thought-provoking. So, when the witch elements cut in, they feel a bit jarring. Not because of the intention, simply because the shadow effects, the set-ups to the visions, and how they were cut into the story, all felt a bit cliché.
Which is unfortunate because the substance of this story is so much smarter than needing simple horror tropes to create frights. This is still a very engaging film regardless. It’s layered with much more intelligence than a typical horror movie so there is plenty about this one to be lured by. It’s a slow burn, it’s moody, and atmospheric. It builds on social commentary about the racism in this country and it effectively serves as the pulse of the narrative. Yet, it’s also a bit over literal in places as well. However, if you like horror with intellect and meaning, Diallo’s “Master” is not a film to miss.
One of the more fascinating films from Sundance was certainly Riley Stearns’ “Dual” starring Karen Gillan as a woman who decides to be cloned when she is diagnosed with a terminal illness. However, once she makes a full recovery, she will be forced to take part in a court ordered duel to the death with her own clone. Now, on paper alone this plot feels like loads of fun and for the most part the film delivers on it. I loved the performance from Gillam, she was an interesting, and highly quirky person. Naturally you want to learn more about her, so she provided the story with an enchanting lead.
The overall intention of the plot was creative and certainly ambitious yet not completely realized with surface level development. The rules of this world were a bit vague, and at times its layering felt convenient, simply because of the progression. It’s intended to be a tale of facing your own mortality cut with futuristic science-fiction and it doesn’t always work. The process of cloning, how these clones work, how their minds process, and much more was a bit thin. The governing laws were as well, and it all pretty much gets served up with exposition. This is where more layering and a deeper dive would have been more effective in rounding out the foundations of this world. Because thought-provoking, and questioning, are different and this one was more the latter.
As mentioned, Gillam was fantastic, but I think her direction was a bit off. She’s not the most emotional of people and she almost feels like a clone herself. Maybe that was the point. But she, and really every character in this movie, was lacking genuine human emotion. Exploring human mortality, the acceptance of death, and the need of feeling love from those close to you are all emotional topics. So, a lack of emotion from the players in an emotionally driven plotline, while possibly intended, turned out to be a bit awkward. It prevented me from being pulled into the weight of the situations placed on the characters. Yet, it didn’t pull me completely out of the story. “Dual” is interesting if not anything, and Gillam alone is worth a watch.
James Ponsoldt’s “Summering” is a coming-of-age film that leans heavily onto genre classics like “Stand by Me.” Centering on four tween girls enjoying the summer before middle school who will learn about themselves, life, and their friendships, when they come across the dead body of a suited man. Possibly a bridge jumper, the girls decide not to call the police but instead make it their mission to find out who this man is from their own investigations and from there this journey to maturity and enlightenment will begin.
“Summering” delivers sincere performances from the younger cast, and spots of the dialogue do manage to rouse nostalgic memories of one’s youth as well. But a slow pace, a collection of charming young ladies that don’t really feel their ages, or like natural friends, and a bit too much effort woven into the sentimentality does hinder an otherwise lovable movie. Kids often fail to do the logical thing, so not calling the police doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief. Here, the thin story lines and a lack of authenticity are what truly undercuts the potential.
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this one because I did. I was engaged in the young cast and the enthusiasm in their performances. Their case to find out who this guy was doesn’t really weave a ton of mystery, but it can still entertain. The adult cast led by Lake Bell and Megan Mullally are able to infuse substance into otherwise flat characters as well and “Summering” certainly has its qualities. But it could have benefited from a female perspective in the writing to make this group of modern-day Goonies, a bit more authentic. Regardless, if you love happy, sentimental, coming-of-age movies, “Summering” can take you there.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2022 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.