When I first heard about Achoura, I got really excited. Supernatural horror is probably my favorite subgenre, and I’m particularly intrigued by supernatural films that are based on religions other than Christianity. Granted, I love Judeo-Christian demon and devil movies just as much as anybody, but I also like variety in my cinematic diet. After a while, seeing the same lore play out on screen over and over again can get a bit monotonous, so I’m always on the lookout for supernatural horror films based on other cultures and other belief systems.
And Achoura is exactly that. Directed by Talal Selhamit and starring Younes Bouab, Sofia Manousha, Moussa Maaskri, and Omar Lotfi, this movie is set in Morocco, and it’s about a djinn, an evil spirit from Muslim lore. This particular djinn steals children during a Moroccan religious celebration called Achoura (hence the name of the film), and the story focuses on a group of friends who have to face the monster one last time.
For the first half-hour or so, Achoura feels almost like a quasi-anthology. It jumps around to a few different times and places, and it tells a couple of stories about children who’ve been attacked by the djinn. The lack of narrative cohesion makes this part of the movie pretty disjointed, and I quickly found myself looking at my watch to see how much time was left in it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love anthology films, but that approach did not work for me in this movie. While there were a few creepy scenes, on the whole, I found the individual djinn attacks to be way too underdeveloped. For the most part, I didn’t know nearly enough about the characters to care what happened to them, so their tragic fates didn’t make much of an impact on me.
What’s more, one of the attacks involves a man chained up like a rabid animal and it seemed completely out of place. While this gets explained as the story progresses, it stuck out like a sore thumb the first time I saw it. It felt a bit like the filmmakers dropped a scene from Saw (the original movie, not the sequels) into a demon film, and while I normally like variety and subgenre mashups, for some reason this just didn’t land with me.
Then, at about the 30-minute mark, Achoura begins to come together as a single, cohesive story, and it gets a lot better. You learn what the movie is really about, and the premise is actually pretty interesting. It’s about a group of friends who lost one of their numbers to the djinn when they were kids, and when their lost friend finally comes back to them as an adult, the entire group tries to stop the monster once and for all.
There’s a lot to like about this part of the movie, but it’s still a pretty mixed bag. Let’s start with the positives. I really enjoyed seeing the main characters when they were children, and I’d even go so far as to say that these kids are the best thing about the film. The child actors do a great job and they have some really solid chemistry with one another. I totally believed that they were best friends, so I bought into the entire group very quickly.
Along similar lines, the adult versions of these characters are also pretty likable. I didn’t become quite as attached to them as I was to their younger selves, but I still cared about what happened to them. I was happy when they got reunited with their lost friend and I genuinely wanted them to make it out alive at the end.
Those positives laid a good foundation for Achoura to build on, but sadly, it never gives its characters the great horror story they deserve. While there are a handful of cool horror moments here and there, on the whole, I thought the genre elements were very underwhelming. For example, you see the djinn relatively early on in the story, and its design is pretty hit or miss. There are a bunch of times when it looks really cool, but there are also way too many times when it looks like a cheap knockoff of the weird, almost doughy-looking “big woman” monster from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
On top of that, I had some really big problems with the mythology as well. For example, there’s a magical whistle that plays a substantial role in stopping the djinn, and I thought it was a bit silly. It’s kind of a deus ex machina, so it felt like an overly simplistic solution. What’s more, that Saw-esque element from earlier in the film plays a role later on as well, and while it makes a lot more sense at the end of the story than it does at the beginning, I still didn’t like it all that much. It’s connected to the whistle (but I won’t spoil it by saying how!), and I found it to be similarly undercooked.
So at the end of the day, would I recommend Achoura to horror fans looking for some good new scares? Well, I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, but I wouldn’t discourage you from watching it either. There’s enough good in it that it’s far from a waste of time, but there’s also enough bad in it that you’re probably better off checking out something else. I know that’s a really noncommittal answer, but it’s a pretty accurate reflection of how I felt about the film. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it either. So if that’s enough to get you interested, then, by all means, give it a shot. If it’s not, then feel free to give this movie a pass. In my opinion, you won’t be missing too much.
Achoura hits DVD and VOD on December 14th.