For a debut feature, Abdelhamid Bouchnak presents Dachra, a stylish addition to the folk horror cannon.
Yasmine (Yasmine Dimassi), Belil (Belil Slatinia) and Walid (Aziz Jbali) are journalism students with a project due. Their professor wants a fresh and exclusive story, nothing run of the mill, and they have 15 days to complete it. Walid knows of a woman named Mongia (Hela Ayed), a patient in the local asylum who terrifies the staff because it’s rumoured she’s a witch. Walid is certain he can get them an interview with the head doctor and the mysterious patient at the asylum. Found 20 years ago, wandering a country road with her throat cut, Mongia might be the big scoop they need. The doctor’s denial of her existence fuels them to find her, and when they do, the interview goes sideways. The trio digs up where she was found, and a road trip later, they end up in a secluded village. With suspicious villagers at every turn, entrails as welcome streamers, and an overly friendly guide Saber (Hedi Mejeri), their trip offers more questions than answers and an invitation to danger.
Bouchnak wrote, edited and produced Dachra, and he’s done a great job for his first feature. With a solid folkloric base, engaging characters and great cinematography, there’s more than enough happening to keep you riveted, and it’s 100% creepy. Many moments made me think of the 2004 Belgian horror Calvaire, and the segment in the 1981 anthology classic The Monster Club called “The Humgoo Story,” but it’s not all familiar, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, things turn around and get crazy.
The trio of actors was quite good, but their constant bickering used for levity was at times a tad excessive. The industrial colour scheme-grays and muted blues with pops of warmer colours-mixed with the striking and stark cinematography by Hatem Natchi was a really interesting contrast to the natural setting of the forest and low-fi, semi-abandoned village.
Bouchnak starts the film with a title card stating the story is based on true events. I usually raise an eyebrow when I see that, but Dachra’s premise comes from real reports of child victims of witchcraft in Tunisia and other parts of Africa. “Zouhri” children are typically kids with birthmarks or other physical distinctions considered mystically important In Tunisia, putting them in jeopardy of being sacrificed for good fortune and treasure. That’s a sobering thought when you realize how often this still happens. In the film’s press release, Bouchnak stressed that often the lines of urban legend and truth are blurred, but ultimately it’s an issue that is growing. His call for awareness through Dachra is ambitious and as the first horror film out of Tunisia, I’d say it’s a worthy addition to the genre.
Find Dachra in virtual theatres and on VOD.