Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Sundance Review : Master

After the success of the film Get Out, I had the feeling that intelligent horror films with racial overtones were going to become more prevalent in cinema. As a film fan, this is fine, as I enjoy the genre and love to support genre films from filmmakers of color. The alluring Regina Hall headlines the latest film titled Master from Amazon Studios.

Writer-director Mariama Diallo makes her debut with Master, which focuses on three women striving to find their place at a prestigious New England university whose frosty elitism may disguise something more sinister. The first Black woman to hold the position of “Master” at storied Ancaster College is Professor Gail Bishop (Regina Hall).

Determined to breathe new life into a centuries-old tradition, Gail soon finds herself wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), an energetic and optimistic Black freshman. The first week of Jasmine’s stay at Ancaster hits a snag due to a supposedly haunted dorm room assignment. Things get worse when Jasmine clashes in the classroom with Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), a Black professor in the middle of her own racially charged tenure review. 

As Gail tries to maintain order and fulfill the duties of a Master, the cracks begin to show in Ancaster’s once-immaculate façade. Gail fought to make it into Ancaster’s inner circle and now she must confront the horrifying prospect of what lies beneath. The question, in the end though, is not whether the school is otherworldly.

Every so often, I will view a film to review, jot down notes and then hold off on writing my review. This action usually happens when I have to process what I’ve just watched or if I don’t have to rush to get the review done. Master falls into both categories. The film starts promising enough as Diallo slowly peels away the layers of what her debut is genuinely about. I have to admit, I had an inkling of where Master might go, but Diallo threw me for a curve, particularly with arc for Jasmine.

Initially, the director drops subtle hints about the mindset of Jasmine’s classmates before going all-in at the top of the third act. While Jasmine isn’t the only Black student at her university, she is in a small company. All Jasmine wants to do is get an education, and from the moment she meets the welcoming committee on Orientation Day, it’s clear that someone or something doesn’t want her there.

Growing up as a military brat and sometimes as the only black face in the classroom, I could fully relate to some of the moments that Jasmine had to deal with. The young actress has a great moment with Amber Gray’s character of Prof. Beckman, which shows just how much internalized racism is still present in 2022. Zoe Renne is a real find in the role, and I look forward to her work in the future.

I wasn’t privy to any of Amber Gray’s previous work, but the actress did impress me as one of the film’s leads. Gray performs in the essence that the viewer either identifies with her motivation or doesn’t. However, I think we all have come across someone like her at some point. A third-act plot twist involving her character is sure to catch audiences off guard.

However, the captain of this ship is Ms. Regina Hall, who delivers another A-1 lead performance. Master is one of two Regina Hall films I saw at Sundance 2022, with the other being Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Hall brings a different acting style to both, with this one as the more serious of the two. Master alludes to Hall’s awareness that some spooky shenanigans may or may not be afoot at the campus, or is it all in her head? When we finally reach the film’s closing moments, Hall gives an applause-worthy monologue that sums up Master and its message.

I’m not sure how mainstream audiences will take to the film, and honestly, even after a discussion with film critic and horror expert Dustin Putman of The Film, I still have questions. Nevertheless, the acting in the film is sincere, and for that alone, I will recommend Master.

Final Grade: C+

Master is available to stream on Prime Video, March 18th.

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