Achoura Movie Review
Written by Joe Haward
Released by Dark Star Pictures
Directed by Talal Selhami
Written by Jawad Lahlou, Talal Selhami, and David Villemin
2018, 90 minutes, Rated RATING
Released on December 14th, 2021
Sofiia Manousha as Nadia
Younes Bouab as Ali
Omar Lotfi as Samir
Iván González as Stéphane
Moussa Maaskri as Le Gardien
Mohamed Choubi as Majd
According to the Qur’an, djinn were created “...from the smokeless flame of fire...” (Qur’an 15.26-27). Across cultural and ethnic communities, belief in the specifics of djinn varies according to the geographical and regional specificities and nuances of Islamic culture. Certain religious and folk stories have shaped these various beliefs throughout the centuries, beliefs that serve as both story and warning of these ancient powerful beings, lurking in the darkest of corners and malignant places, ready to bring evil and harm.
Achoura draws deeply from the well of these stories and beliefs, creating a film that, whilst far from perfect, is both rich in character and satisfying as a horror experience.
There is an emotional depth to director Talal Selhami’s film that sustains it throughout. Selhami is chiefly concerned about building a story of characters for whom events in their childhood reverberate into adult life, the wounds raw and far from healed. Whilst Selhami doesn’t always achieve the heights that he sets out to scale, he certainly doesn’t fail in getting near.
Achoura begins strongly as we are confronted with difficult questions that surround certain cultural practices of marriage and abuse. It is a testament to Selhami’s direction and screenplay (written with Jawad Lahlou and David Villemin) that the horror of very real human suffering holds the viewer with the same power as the monster who stalks the shadows. From its opening, Achoura reminds us that some monsters have very human faces.
The story follows a group of four friends who are plagued by the trauma of events some twenty-five years previous. Ali (played by Younes Bouab) lives a tortured existence, failing as a husband and a father, searching for answers as to the disappearance of his brother, Samir (Omar Lotfi), when they were children. The other two members of the group, Nadia (a strong performance by Sofiia Manousha) and Stéphane (Iván González), recall those fateful events from childhood very differently,
Nadia: We were attacked by a pervert!
Stéphane: What attacked us was no pervert, nor anything human!
Whilst the memory and suffering of past events fade in and out of view for each of them in different ways, they all reverberate the pain of their past into adult life with equal chaos. Mathieu De Montgrand’s cinematography especially delights in these moments, light and dark colliding in remembrance and regret.
There are some obvious similarities that Achoura shares with Stephen King’s IT, and Selhami’s film sometimes too easily falls into IT’s lair rather than forging its own path. Yet, there is enough in Achoura’s armory to carry it through these moments. Indeed, Achoura manages to wrestle with certain issues of childhood trauma in ways that are far superior to King’s clown epic. Whilst both stories imagine the lengths people might go to rescue those that they love, in contrast to IT, Achoura reflects not primarily on a child’s fear, but upon their innocence as the driver of that love. Whereas the children of Derry in King’s world are full of cynicism, Selhami paints a different picture of childhood. “He feeds on children,” Stéphane declares about the djinn they face. He goes on, “Gathering strength from their joy and innocence.” In the midst of the pain and horror and a grief that goes even further than King, Achoura still wants to celebrate the child, shining a light on the suffering they endure at the hands of those with power.
From the opening celebration of Ashura to learning the true nature of the central creature, Achoura’s strength lays in its Moroccan heart. Romain Paillot’s score pulls the viewer into its Northern African charm and history. Morocco’s folklore, religious festivals, and cultural power are illuminated by Paillot’s music alongside his ability to ramp up the dread whilst also nurturing Achoura’s emotional layers.
There are times Achoura stumbles as character development gets left behind trying to fill in the plot. This is not a surprise, as the story of an ancient creature travels alongside the exploration of the human as a person. It is a difficult balance.
However, Achoura’s faults do not diminish the enjoyment it brings. It is an accomplished film, packed with dread and emotional energy. Selhami is a young director, early in his career, but if Achoura is anything to go by, there is a lot to look forward to.
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