“Achoura” now available on Prime Video!
Broken by witnessing the kidnapping of their friend Samir, Ali, Nadia, and Stephen’s lives are plagued by the past and turmoiled in the present as adults. When Samir is miraculously discovered alive, a realization of truth begins to flood back into their memories as the kidnapper’s intentions were to stop a malicious, child-devouring entity by stowing the demon away in Samir’s body as an encapsulating prison. The demon, known as the Bougatate, uses the joyous celebration of the Muslim holiday Ashura to snack on beguiled youth and is now free to feed upon ripe, happy children once again, especially Ali and Nadia’s young son. The four friends must band together and seek to destroy Bougatate on his own turf, a decrepit rural French house engulfed in nightmarish lore.
Nothing says originality and mind-broadening concepts more than when international filmmakers weave the fabric of their folklore, the sequin of traditions, and the raw materials of cultural customs into their fabrication of creativity. Director and co-writer Talala Selhami takes us on that very journey through Morocco with a tale based off the concepts of a shifty Djinn-like urban legend terrorizing children of the Ashura celebration with a shadowy, jaw-opening and jowl-extending monster devouring children like a snake in this 2018 released supernatural, child-be-vigilant thriller, “Achoura.” Selhami’s sophomore film comes 8 years after releasing the cutthroat hiring practices of Corporation authority over the applying individual in “Mirages.” The French-born director helms a script penned by Jawad Loahlou and David Villemin showcasing the horrors of loss, sometimes forgotten, amongst the Arab-Berber population. The half-crescent coast of Casablanca becomes the main shooting location for the Moroccan-French co-production under Moon & Deal Films, Overlook Films, Orange Studio, and Black Lab VFX produced by Selhami and Lamia Chraibi with executive producers in Caroline Piras (“Among the Living”) and Rachida Saadi.
“Achoura” has been described as the Moroccan “IT” where four childhood friends reunite to face a preadolescent predator known as Bougatate. That analogical sentiment is extremely on-point to the detriment of “Achoura’s” North American release; I, myself, before reading any other external comments, had thought “Achoura’s” story walked the same line as the 2017 remake and strongly resembled Pennywise in intentions and, in some ways, specific ways he – or rather it – tricks and consumes children. The four friends are also similar to certain characters in the Loser Club, but the Sofiia Manousha is the least affected by her past, reimagining what happened to her friend, Samir (Omar Lotfi), as nothing more than being an abducted whim of a pervert’s fantasy. Samir is the younger brother to Nadia’s estranged husband Ali (Younes Bouab), a brooding, sleepless detective ceaselessly on his brother’s case as he dives deep into old investigative interview footage and cigarette packs he continuously bites the filter off of each cancel stick. The pain Ali bottles up is complete poison wonderfully conveyed as well as the interpretation of trauma from the last friend of four in painter, Stephen or Stéphane as the character is credited. Played by the Spanish born Iván González, whose worked on a pair of intense thrillers – “The Divide” and “The Crucifixion” with director Xavier Gens, Stephen singles himself the only person that remembers what actually happens as González glosses the artist with starry eyes and a verbally shaken recollection of monstrous images. The one performance thought to be the weakest link was Omar Lotfi’s Samir, an imprisoned man-child imprisoning a demon with him, and Lotfi’s infantility as a grown man freed from confinement and a demon crossed too intractable goofiness, leading the Samir away from being a sympathetic character into more of a cartoon of one. The cast is relatively comprised of the four friends with minor parts here and there in roles from Mohamed Wahib Abkari, Jade Beloued, Abdellah El Yousfi, Celine Hugo, Gabriel Fracola, Mohamed Choubi, Noé Lahlou, and Moussa Maaskri as The Guardian incarcerating Bougetate inside Samir, who we assume is the same boy from the film’s prologue setup but never actually verified.
While “Achoura” draws many comparisons to “IT,” Selhami sepulchers itself into an overwrought, yet hugely overworked subgenre of shrouded gangly presences lurking from the darkest corners of the room to bring antagonism toward children. “The Babadook” comes to mind with the manifestation of grief descending upon a single mother and her child. Same theme can be extracted from “Achoura’s” grief and trauma over the loss of their friend and how they represent the condition in different ways: Nadia chooses to reimagine the event to a safer, saner memory, Stephen expresses his horror through painting, and Ali’s guilt drives him to unhealthy habits in looking for his brother. The Bougatate is akin to a pedophile robbing children of their innocence, a motif that extends from the very beginning of the story with a preteen boy expressing his affection for a girl his own age before Bougatate seizes upon them. Their innocent and charming clandestine affair is kept from her betrothed husband, who’s creepily decades older, in a mind-boggling and unpleasant idea of children arranged marriages that sets the misguided tone for a sordid underlayer that sparks Bougatate’s resurgence into the world. Though I like the tone of the film albeit a vague carbon copy of others like it, what I find to be tone deaf is the often clunky special effects surrounding the entity’s polished look. One attribute belonging to Bougatate is the legion of flies that constitute his form in what has diminutively become just a bunch of nano byte specks moving in menacing unison and swallowing (or being swallowed) anything in their path. The non-linear format that double culminates the unravelling in present and in flashback past retains a sustainable 90-mystery.
One of the last horror films to be released in 2021, “Achoura” came to digital platforms and DVD home video this past December from Dark Star Pictures, the same company who released the phenomenal Veracruz folklore and Bruha horror, “The Old Ways,” and the Mickey Reece’s perfectly subtle nod to vampires and depression in “Climate of the Hunter.” Since a digital screener was provided, commenting on the DVD audio and video quality is a no-go, but the Mathieu De Montgrand offers harsh hard lit scenes vast in depth, a breadth of landscape between the countryside of France and Casablanca shoreline, and excellent action and tracking shots to instill the appearance of a big-time movie. Montgrand is definitely not just a point and shoot cinematographer as he can build suspense purely on his angles along with Julien Foure’s editing of the flashback montage that tells a bigger side of the four friends’ history yet to be revealed. “Achoura’s” bleak analogy of children’s innocence being consumed by the complexities of adulthood problems understands the unstoppable crossbreeding crisis of blending youthful naivety with seasoned reality to the point of no return that one day all unspoiled exuberance will simply be eaten into oblivion.