23rd Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Dachra’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Hela Ayed, Yassmine Dimassi, Aziz Jabali, Bilel Slatnia | Written and Directed by Abdelhamid Bouchnak

dachra-poster

The feature debut of writer-director Abdelhamid Bouchnak, Dachra is a Tunisian folk horror that has broken box-office records in its native North Africa. Impressively acted and chillingly atmospheric, it represents a formidable calling card.

Yassmine Dimassi, Aziz Jabali and Bilel Slatnia play Yasmine, Walid and Bilel, three journalism students who are tasked with reporting an exclusive story. When they hear rumours of a woman called Mongia (Hela Ayed), who was found mutilated 25 years ago and locked away in an asylum, they decide to investigate her story, but an interview in her cell doesn’t go as planned. Adopting a different tack, they travel to the spot where she was supposedly found and encounter an isolated country village, full of silent women and a suspiciously large amount of meat. Encouraged to stay overnight by a jovial, suspiciously over-enthusiastic local, the trio soon find they have bitten off more than they can chew.

Dimassis, Jabali and Slatnia make an engaging central trio, since the three of them are constantly sniping at each other, often to hilarious effect – e.g. when Walid feels sick in the car and they have to pull over, Bilel asks him if he’s pregnant and hits him with a rapid-fire barrage of jokes on that same theme. Of the three, Dimassis is the more dynamic, driven by her own recurring nightmares, which she apparently hopes to exorcise by pursuing the story.

Bouchnak does a terrific job of both building tension and establishing a genuinely creepy atmosphere. He also has a keen eye for an arresting, deeply unsettling image, most notably when the three friends stumble across a little girl in a red coat (an image so unsettling, it made it onto FrightFest’s home page). If horror cinema has taught us anything, it’s that you should never follow a diminutive figure in red coat, and so it proves here.

On top of that, Bouchnak isn’t above deploying the occasional jump scare and there are a handful of great ones here, from a creepy moment or two in the asylum (punctuated with a female orderly casually asking Bilel if he’s on Facebook) to a number of scary dream sequences.

The atmosphere of the film is further heightened by some superb sound design work, which is cleverly deployed to make the images seem much more terrifying than they actually are. Let’s put it this way – you may want to reconsider having meat for lunch. Similarly, Bouchnak knows the value of putting a stomach-churning scream over a scary image – to that end, there are moments in the final act that will stay with you a disturbingly long time.

Thematically, there’s a lot to unpick here, especially when it comes to the generation gap and the impact of western culture, not to mention the attitudes of the young towards their elders – there’s a subplot involving Yasmine’s grandfather that gradually becomes more and more significant.

Dachra is an assured debut from Bouchnak that does a terrific job of building tension, establishes a splendidly creepy atmosphere and delivers some genuine scares. It’s also surprisingly funny, at least until the screaming starts.

**** 4/5

Dachra screened on Friday August 23rd as part of the 2019 Arrow Video Frightfest.

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