[Review] Master [SXSW]: Historical Horrors Haunt Two Black Women at an Elite University

An unflinching look at modern-day American racism through the lens of a supernatural horror film, writer/director Mariama Diallo’s Master is a terrific effort that shocks on multiple levels. 

Gail (Regina Hall) has just been named the first Black house master of one of New England’s Ancaster University houses, which the predominantly white faculty members dwell on. One of her charges is incoming freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), a young Black woman who has received anything but a comfortable welcome since first arriving on campus. 

ZOE RENEE stars in MASTER Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

The school was built around the time of the Salem Witch Trials, and legend has it that a certain hanged witch comes to claim a student at exactly 3:33 a.m. Jasmine is assigned to live in a supposedly haunted room where a Black student committed suicide several years earlier because of incidents surrounding the legend. With Gail being held up as the university’s proof of diversity and Jasmine being singled out by fellow students as the target of racist remarks and boorish behavior, supernatural occurrences begin taking place in decidedly creepy ways.

The specter of racism at the school looms as large as does the ghost of the hanged witch in Master, and Diallo helms the film with an unrelenting focus on both of those aspects. She raises shudders in viewers with white students comparing Jasmine to Black celebrities and fraternity brothers shouting out blunt hip hop lyrics at a party that she attends, along with Gail’s being made increasingly uncomfortable as a tenured professor who is the target of a more subtle but no less disturbing brand of racism, and balances those discomfiting scenes with several skin-crawling sequences of flat-out horror.

REGINA HALL stars in MASTER Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Master is a social horror movie that delivers its message superbly while delivering equally strong fear-fare elements. With marvelous lead performances from Hall and Renee to accompany its strong direction and storytelling, Master is a classy slice of horror cinema that deserves to reach a wide audience.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Master screened as part of SXSW, which took place March 11–20, 2022 in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit https://www.sxsw.com/.

Master is available in select theaters and on Prime Video from March 18, 2022.

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.