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.
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.
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 / 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.