[Overlook Film Festival] Review: DACHRA is a Fantastic Debut From Tunisian Director Abdelhamid Bouchnak

The following review comes from the Overlook Film Festival, one of the most exciting and rapidly growing genre film festivals in the world.

The Overlook Film Festival not only delivers on the highly anticipated genre films, but it also brings to light some international and indie flicks you might not have heard of. An example of that is Abdelhamid Bouchnak’s Dachra. Until I saw the festival lineup, I had never heard of this film. The Tunisian film may not be on most fan’s radar at the moment, but I’m guessing it will be as it pops up at more festivals.

Dachra is the feature film debut for writer and director Abdelhamid Bouchnak. The film follows Yassmine, a young journalism student, and two of her friends. They get a class assignment to find an exclusive story they can do a video of. One of the friends tells the story of a woman who was found mangled 20 years ago and has been in an asylum ever since. The three students follow the breadcrumbs to find out what happened to the woman, only to come face-to-face with witchcraft, cannibalism, and life-altering secrets. 

This film drips with tension and ambience. As Dachra moves forward, new layers of mystery are added to the plot. It is all the more intriguing as the audience is allowed to discover thrilling new clues to unlock the mystery right along with the journalism students. The investigation moves from the grounded reality of the big city to the frightening mysticism of the country, keeping the audience interested. The moment the students arrive at the small village it is like stepping into another world and another time. 

A fascinating plot isn’t necessarily enough, though. As the film approaches the third act the pacing almost comes to a halt, leaving the audience wondering when the climax will begin. The climax itself is quite exciting when it finally happens and reveals some shocking new information. Yet the new information may also be tied up a little too nicely in a perfect bow, giving the audience every last detail to make sure they understand. It all leads to the disturbing finale, with a last scene that is a bit abrupt, but definitely packs a punch.

The performances in this film are unique in that none of the characters are particularly endearing. The three journalism students are all somewhat obnoxious and bratty. Yet I love them because they feel like real people instead of just characters in a film. The most likeable character is Yassmine, played by Yassmine Dimassi in her first feature film role. She can definitely be obnoxious, but she is also the peacekeeper between her other two friends. Dimassi’s performance makes you care about Yassmine’s fate by the end of the film, which is vital in a horror film. Honorable mention goes to the other two journalism students, played Aziz Jbali and Bilel Slatnia in their first film roles.

 This stunning film expertly utilizes striking cinematography to add to the ominous appearance. The color palette in Dachra is very dark and dreary, the only bright colors being from the green in nature and the red/orange jacket worn by the creepiest little girl in history. The color palette is made even more dreary by the use of both smoke and fog. The haziness only adds to the mystical look and feel of the film, especially when the students first emerge from the fog and arrive in a village of women who don’t talk and with meat hanging all around. This method helps convey the idea that this village is like another world. The filmmakers use some fantastic panning shots and unique angles to draw the eye. Even if the film feels slow at parts, it is still a gorgeously made film that is a feast for the eyes.

Dachra transports the audience to a dark and mysterious other world fraught with tension and dread. While I wish I didn’t have to warn people of this, I personally know many horror fans that refuse to watch films with subtitles, which Dachra has. Don’t let that be a deterrent. This Tunisian film creates some fascinating mythology and delivers on twists and turns to keep you sucked in. There are times when the pacing slows a bit too much, but the gorgeous look of the film and strong performances help to make up for it. No matter how you look at it, this is a fantastic feature film debut for writer and director Abdelhamid Bouchnak.