[Screen It]


(2022) (Regina Hall, Zoe Renee) (R)

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Horror: A college professor and a freshman must contend with veiled racism and supernatural elements on their campus.

Gail Bishop (REGINA HALL) is the newly appointed housemaster of Peabody house on the campus of Ancaster College where she also works as a professor alongside her friend, Liv Beckman (AMBER GRAY). Gail is the first black woman to hold that title at the centuries-old college known for having U.S. presidents and other dignitaries as alumni, along with the legend of a witch who allegedly targets one freshman each year.

It's not long before Jasmine Moore (ZOE RENEE) thinks she might be that student, what with the reaction she gets from others on the campus and the specific room she'll be sharing with fellow student Amelia (TALIA RYDER). As weird and seemingly supernatural things begin occurring to both Gail and Jasmine, they must also contend with veiled racism that rears its ugly head.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I was born and grew up in the old capitol of the Confederacy a century after it fell to the efforts of the "northern aggression." Confederate flags were surprisingly less common than they are today, but Monument Avenue was adorned with huge statues of historical figures of the "southern cause." And despite -- but also because of -- the Civil Rights movement of that era, many black folks still experienced racism.

Which, shockingly, still occurs today, and has seen an uptick of recent, spurred on by some politicians and TV and social media figures. No doubt, it's a horror show for some, and thus it wasn't that surprising when director Jordan Peele tapped into that for his 2017 observational horror flick, "Get Out."

Writer/director Mariama Diallo tries to follow suit in her debut feature-length feature, "Master." Named both for the title that Professor Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) holds at esteemed Ancaster College and the overall subtext and historical aspect of white people owning black slaves and otherwise controlling such souls once they were freed, the flick starts strongly, but eventually loses a lot of steam as its focus and scares become ever more scattered and disjointed.

Gail is new to her position and thus takes up residency in an old antebellum manor that still possesses former servant quarters and the obligatory "servant, jump to my white whim and command" bell system on the wall. That we, natch, given the genre, know is more than likely going to ring a time or two during the film's nearly 100-minute runtime.

As she tries to settle into her new digs, so must freshman Jasmine (Zoe Renee) who stands out not necessarily because she's cute, but mainly because she's one of the few black students on campus.

Oh, and one who's been placed in the very same dorm room where the college's first black student hung herself back in the '60s. That, her penchant for sleepwalking, and learning of the legend of the local witch who selects one new student and drags them down to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks Arena exactly at 3:33 am means that time is clearly going to show up on a clock or two.

Diallo initially gets some decently creepy mileage out of both setups as things go bump in the night and then some for both ladies of color. But as the story and its horror elements start focusing more on racism rather than supernatural scares, the throughput becomes diffused and scatters the frights to the point that they're not very scary. Accordingly, the further things moved along in that fashion, the less engaged I became in either woman's plight and the more I thought about Peele's far superior mixture of race and horror.

Hopefully, one hundred years from now racism will be a long-forgotten blight. I imagine "Master" will disappear from public memory and discourse long before that. Decent to start but ultimately a pale imitator, the film rates as just a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 15, 2022 / Posted March 18, 2022

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