Review by Camden Ferrell
Dachra is Tunisia’s first venture into the horror genre. It has played numerous festivals since its premiere, including the Venice Film Festival. It is also the narrative feature debut of writer and director Abdelhamid Bouchnak. The movie does benefit from its consistently sinister ambiance, it feels far too derivative and sluggish to reliably frighten or entertain.
In this horror movie, three journalism students are working on their documentary assignment. They decide to interview a woman named Mongia, a deranged woman who could provide insight into the crime they’re investigating. They are then led to a secluded village where nothing is as it seems. It’s interesting enough as a premise and it draws from a lot of North African folklore, so it has the potential to be something truly unique.
From the start, its writing isn’t bad, but it fails to do more than deliver superficial dialogue and exposition. Its interactions are passable, and the script lays a foundation for the film without doing much else. It’s not bad, but it’s far from skilled and worthy of its interesting premise. It borrows too much from other horror movies to ever be distinct in its style. As the first horror film from this country, it feels like more could have done to make it more unique and representative of that area and culture.
The movie prefers to be more subtle in its thrills, and while the bleak color palette and ambiance create a great environment for the characters, it ultimately falls flat. It isn’t explicit in its horror, but even the more suggestive moments of horror aren’t communicated or executed well most of the time. There is some great imagery and blocking throughout, but the final effect isn’t always as intended.
Bouchnak’s creative vision seems confident throughout. It’s meandering pace is by design, but it doesn’t do much to maintain interest through its slow pacing. The main actors try their best, and they do well with the material especially in the latter half of the film. However, they still don’t always compensate for the squandered potential in its writing and execution.
Dachra is a noble narrative feature debut from Bouchnak, and it has a chilling atmosphere, but the thrills often fall flat, and it doesn’t do enough to stand apart from other horror movies. Despite its flaws, it does show some promise for its director, actors, and the future of Tunisian horror movies.
Dachra is in theaters July 9.