Regina Hall (left) and Amber Gray in "Master."

Regina Hall (left) and Amber Gray in "Master."

MOVIE "Master"

WHERE Streaming on Prime Video

WHAT IT'S ABOUT This horror movie set at Ancaster, an elite New England university, depicts the supernatural apparitions and everyday microaggressions facing two of the very few Black women on campus.

It stars Regina Hall as Gail Bishop, a professor and the first Black master at a school residence. Zoe Renee plays freshman Jasmine Moore, assigned to live in a supposedly haunted room in the building run by Bishop.

Decades earlier, a tragedy occurred in Room 302, which housed the school's first student of color in 1965, while legend says the campus is stalked by the ghost of a woman hanged after being accused of witchcraft.

The feature filmmaking debut of writer-director Mariama Diallo co-stars Amber Gray ("Hadestown" on Broadway) and is now streaming on Prime Video.

MY SAY A foreboding atmosphere engulfs "Master" from its opening scenes, with the filmmaker utilizing canted angles and other methods of cinematic disorientation to show the extent to which something feels very wrong at this school.

Diallo skillfully establishes the depth of the toxicity eating away at this picturesque place.

It's not just the otherworldly presence hovering throughout its rooms and hallways, or the shadowy figure stalking the quad. The nighttime visions of figures crawling under beds, the maggots pouring out from behind a painting: These are compellingly rendered and effective metaphors, but also familiar horror movie staples.

It's also more than just the portrayal of the insular nature of the school, the sense of entitlement emanating from the other freshmen ("We had the sickest after prom, it was in Amagansett," one says) or the weird traditions such as students being encouraged to open their windows and let out primal screams all at once.

The horrors in "Master" are most prominently found in Diallo's depiction of the pervasive racism that's manifest in multiple forms at a school that professes to prioritize diversity and inclusion.

That's found in the displacement Jasmine feels as, typically, the only Black person in a room; the comments she has to endure, such as when a white librarian tells her she's "obviously got a good head on her shoulders"; and the humiliations, as the librarian insists on searching her backpack after Jasmine sets off the security sensors when she leaves the building.

It's seen as Gail endures many similar experiences, while coming to increasingly recognize that she has been tokenized by the school's leadership, while being unable to actually change anything for the better.

There are also more prominent outrages as things escalate over the course of the picture, and the veneer is fully stripped away.

The precision with which Diallo focuses on her characters sharing these experiences that are simultaneously otherworldly and tragically mundane allows for the movie to transcend the occasional genre cliches.

It's a movie about something deep and fundamental in the American experience, an evil that's in many ways as pervasive in our supposedly enlightened present as ever before.

BOTTOM LINE "Master" is a genre picture that works as well as it does because it's rooted in everyday horrors.

Top Stories


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months