A first for Moroccan cinema, “Achoura” is a captivating dark fairytale that offers a taste of what the country can bring to the genre table.
Myths and folklore have always been used as creative and successful tools to keep children well-behaved and cooperative at bedtime. Often, the tales themselves are enough to terrify. But as horror fans, we get the treat of seeing ancient myths and fairy tales spring to life via that extra little push from talented writers, producers, directors, and actors.
This is where the horror film Achoura, a French/Moroccan co-production written and directed by Talal Selhami, comes in.
Achoura is a darkly magical, Del Toro-esque tale told in different timelines but eventually leading to one conclusion.
The film begins long ago on the night of Achoura (an Islamic holiday also called Child’s Night). A young boy and girl run off to be alone for a little while, but they are pursued by her adult, almost elderly husband — or “owner” might be the better word. You know the drill. The little girl gives her friend an ornate handmade whistle and tells him to blow it every time he thinks of her, which will, later on, figure into the movie heavily.
To avoid the jealous and possessive old man, the children run into a dilapidated, moldy, shadow-soaked house in the woods. It is known by local children as The French House. Folklore tells the legend of the djinn, Bougatate, who feeds on the youth and innocence of children and slumbers in the shack. It goes without saying that the child-eating djinn is woken up by the hiding children, and in a cloud of swirling black particles takes the little girl.
Then we travel ahead to the present, and are introduced to Nadia (Sofia Manousha), Ali (Younes Bouab), Samir (Omar Lotfi), and Stéphane (Iván González).
As children, the four friends decided to explore The French House.
None of them left the house the same, and one (Samir) didn’t leave the house at all. As time passes, they lose all memory of the Bougatate (a known after-effect on people who have encountered it).
Twenty years after their encounter, small flecks of memory begin to sprinkle into their minds. They remember the entirety of their encounter with Bougatate (great name for a demon if ever I heard one) once Samir returns from out of nowhere to ignite their memories. Now adults and reunited, the four friends must return to The French House to destroy Bougatate.
I know what you’re thinking, and I’m thinking it, too; this all sounds very familiar.
If that description just conjured up images of a certain evil clown from a town called Derry, that’s definitely understandable. All I can say in response to that is Achoura’s principal photography began before production began on the two newest IT ventures. And both projects maintain distinctly different identities. The common theme of “adults vs. scary childhood monsters” is pretty much the extent of their similarities.Those enchanted by films such as THE BABADOOK, PAN'S LABYRINTH, and IT will undoubtedly find macabre and dark fairy tale delights aplenty in Talal Selhami’s ACHOURA. Click To Tweet
Achoura seamlessly melds adolescent, real-world anxiety with the innocence of believing in creatures in the closet.
The truly ghastly appearance of Bougatate, aided by the masterful cinematography of Mathieu de Montgrand, gives the film an ominous atmosphere. As with many art horrors, a haze of melancholy is cast over the proceedings.
Special acknowledgment must go to composer Romain Paillot for creating a lush horror score (akin to Christopher Young and Danny Elfman’s horror output) that gives the film mighty bat wings. One particular sequence that sticks out for me is when, in a flashback, Nadia tells the others the legend of Bougatate while the visual perspective oscillates three times and she breaks the fourth wall.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch upon the djinn itself.
It is mostly CGI, however, that’s forgivable this time due to its complexity. There are animatronics and live acting in prosthetics as well. It takes shape out of a swarm of black particles, showing a face that is best described as a mix of the Jigsaw doll from Saw, the Predator creature, and (surprisingly) the vampires from Blade 2. It’s one of the most inventive supernatural creatures I’ve seen in a while.
Achoura is a heartfelt portrayal of childhood fears and the pyrrhic victory of confronting them in adulthood.