★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Written and Directed by Mariama Diallo
Master, the debut feature from award-winning short film director Mariama Diallo, begins on orientation day at Ancaster College, a prestigious school outside of Boston. It stars Regina Hall (who horror fans will recognize as Brenda from the Scary Movie franchise) as professor Gail Bishop who has been elected the first Black housemaster of Belleville House in the college’s long history. One incoming freshman Jasmine, played by Zoe Renee, stands out as the only Black student in Belleville House (and we come to find out one of only 8 Black students on campus).
Haunted not only by historic (and we will see continuing) racism, the college is also rumored to be haunted by a witch named Margaret Millet who was burned at the stake in the 1600s and who each year reveals herself to a student at 3:33 am, the time of her death, and takes them back with her to hell. The location of the supposed reveal- Jasmine and her roommate Amelia’s (Talia Ryder) dorm room.
As if being away from home and a freshman at college isn’t enough pressure, Jasmine, who was valedictorian at her high school is finding her college courses challenging. In fact, she gets her first “F” on a paper from professor Liv Beckman, one of the other few Black faculty who herself is trying to obtain a prestigious tenured position.
Told through six chapters, Master weaves racism, feminism, and the supernatural cultivating with a big surprise in the final chapter. However, at only 90 minutes this film is actually too short (I don’t think I have ever said that before) and it felt choppy and disconnected. There were so many pieces that I needed and wanted to know more about that I think prevented me from truly understanding this film. What about the group of Puritan-looking people Gail keeps encountering? What was going on with Amelia the roommate who has a storyline that comes and goes in about 2 minutes and I wanted more about what was going on in professor Bishop’s attic!
Even with these issues, the performances were great and the film looked fantastic and had some genuinely creepy moments. It has been a long time since I was in college, but I’d love a class with Diallo because she was hitting very heavy and important themes in this film that I wish I had been able to appreciate more fully. I believe she has a lot to teach and hopefully Master will make her a voice that more film studios will want to hear from just like I do.
Master comes to us from Amazon Studios so I think it is safe to assume it will be coming to Prime streaming after it completes its festival rounds. The Scariest Things will keep you posted on news and will post a trailer when one comes out!