Dachra first look review Arrow FrightFest 2019

Three journalism students go looking for a gruesome story and find it in Tunisian horror Dachra

Sometimes horror movie characters just don’t know when to leave. For Tunisian journalism student Yassmine (Yassmine Dimassi) and her two friends, the hunt for a story will take them beyond the salacious story they’re looking, to an unmapped village and into mortal peril.

Dachra, the debut feature from writer-director Abdelhamid Bouchnak, begins with a horrifying sequence as the corpse of a young boy is eviscerated to obtain “a key.” This gruesome scene hangs over the rest of the film, as our three leads embark on a hunt to uncover an urban legend about a woman who attacked staff at a local asylum. They’re looking for a story that will stand out, and they’re damn sure going to find it.

It’s interesting to see that Bouchnak is clearly interested in making an eye-catching horror film while avoiding making concessions to find a broad audience. The characters are not likeable, at least not in a conventional sense. They constantly bicker and nag at each other, and only Yassmine gets anything resembling a backstory (her worried father is there to remind the audience that she’s troubled as much as her nightmares are). The look of the film is grim and colourless, and the nigh-on-two-hour runtime means that we’re not moving at a lightning pace here.

Where the film does cater to the genre crowd is in its horror set-pieces. There’s a genuinely tense sequence when they go to talk to a patient after hours, there are real chills to be had as the trio follow their lead to that remote village that is surprisingly difficult to leave, and things do get bloody. The closest point of comparison would seem to be Can Evrenol’s Baskin, as thoroughly modern characters encounter the violent, horrifying spectre of the past. The film may test the audience’s patience but when Bouchnak goes for the gut, there’s no denying Dachra’s impact.

However, it’s worth noting that the film wants to have its cake and eat it too. Highlighting horrifying real life crimes and using them for horror purposes is a dicey move and it may well leave some audiences feeling uneasy.

Dachra was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.