Thursday, July 08, 2021

Dachra: Tunisia’s First Horror Movie

In North Africa, they take witchcraft seriously—like Salem serious. That is how Tunisia’s (believed to be) first horror movie halfway credibly carries the Amityville-style “based on a true story” tag line. Aspiring journalism grad students like Jassmine are more interested in the Jasmine Revolution, but true to journalistic group think, their reports are so similar, their crusty old French prof has banned it as a topic for their final project. Instead, Jassmine and her two bickering colleagues venture into a remote country hamlet hoping to find an original true crime story in Abdelhamid Bouchnak’s Dachra, which opens tomorrow in physical and virtual theaters.

Jassmine is probably more talented than her obnoxious cameraman Bilel and sound guy Walid, but she works with them anyway. She should be listening more to Bechir, the devout grandfather who raised her. He is concerned she still has nightmares of a malevolent “Woman in Black,” but of course, she just blows off his concerns. Instead, she agrees with their half-baked plan to score an interview with a suspected witch who has been secretly committed to an insane asylum.

The interview is rather awkward, but it leads them to a strange tucked-away village (or Dachra) where strange things seem to be afoot. The women are suspiciously quiet, but the talkative Saber is maybe a little welcoming. Whatever is going on, it just might involve Jassmine personally.

incorporates plenty of established genre tropes, including elements of supernatural, cult, and folk horror. The good news is it teases us with the (dubious) promise of found footage too, but instead it presents itself as a professional film. Bouchnak’s cafeteria-style approach actually works pretty well. The backdrop of widespread superstition and traditional Islam gives the film a sense of absolute conviction, like Catholic possession films in the tradition of The Exorcist. Witchcraft is utterly real in Dachra and it is profoundly dangerous.

Frankly, Jassmine, Bilel, and Walid are as annoying as a skin rash. Honestly, it is hard to believe they could spend ten minutes together without killing each other. Yassmine Dimassi is not bad as her namesake, but Belil Slatnia and Aziz Jbali look interchangeable and truly grate on viewers’ patience as Belil and Walid, respectively. By far, the best work comes from Bahri Rahli as grizzled grandpa Bechir.

might not be the most original horror movie, but it is legitimately scary. Bouchnak already has a sharp command of the genre’s visual vocabulary. Sure, it’s a bit messy, but it’s a good film. Recommended for horror fans, Dachra releases tomorrow (7/9) in real and virtual theaters.