Some of the most successful horror films focus on the terror and fear that runs deep in mythmaking. Take a story or folk tale that we’ve heard before and add some scares, the results frequently work. And in the case of Dachra, a Tunisian horror film that played at Venice Film Festival, that terror and fear is born from a mix of North African folklore and solidly crafted genre scares. Even when the filmmaking craft slacks due to production limitations or other factors, the commitment to storytelling stands out. Dekanalog Releasing presents the film on Blu-ray with a solid 1080p presentation that pulls the most from the source. Add a couple special features and you have a release that’s Worth A Look!
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Tunisian folklore or Tunisian culture in general for that matter, but the way in which filmmaker Abdelhamid Bouchnak weaves genre tropes into something clearly personal and rooted in history makes Dachra rise above the crop of B-grade modern horror. That’s not to mention the genuinely solid compositions that Bouchnak and cinematographer Hatem Nechi are able to derive from the great locations they shot at. The general aesthetic is unfussy, with many long, slow zooms and then some shakier handheld shots in the climax. The production’s limitations come through in the performances and harsher, contrast-rich look that the cameras offer, yet it’s all rather steady and committed to good, scary storytelling.
Bouchnak mentions the ‘heavy’ use of framing and lighting in Tarkovsky’s Stalker as the main reference point for Dachra, which is pretty clear from the outset of the film. It all begins with a simple conceit: three journalism students named Yasmine (Yasmine Dimassi), Walid (Aziz Jbali) and Bilel (Bilel Slatnia) are assigned to write a story about something investigative and exciting by their professor. They set out to solve the cold case of Mongia, a woman imprisoned in an asylum for over 20 years for witchcraft. This brings them to the isolated countryside of fog-blanketed Dachra, home to scary kids, silent women, and a bunch of meat hanging out to dry. Naturally, something goes amiss when the trio goes to the asylum and starts asking the right questions.
Dachra deftly combines North African folklore and all the usual horror tropes we see in related works, though its atmosphere makes up for a lot of the familiarity. A long, slow zoom of a panel in a decrepit concrete building becomes frightening when a bottle of liquid is thrown from above and breaks and splatters across the frame. A simple and familiar setup writ larger by the disquieting atmosphere and even more disquieting score. The film apparently cost the equivalent of $80,000 and makes great use of that limited budget by leveraging stock tropes as resources amidst the notes of originality. It can sometimes come off as a bit amateurish, although I chalk much of that up to the budget. Stock sound effects creep through as well, which softens the impact a bit.
All in all, Bouchnak proved with his first narrative feature that he can employ a classic three-act structure while grafting notes of regional mythology onto some genuinely chilling scares. That’s an accomplishment that’s rare and should convince you to take note of any future projects from him. For horror fans, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Beware of the horrors that lie in Dachra, presented here with a one-disc (BD50) Blu-ray release that comes housed in a clear Viva case with a reversible sleeve. The Blu-ray disc boots up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, select chapters, browse special features and toggle subtitles. The menu screen plays a clip from the film on a loop.
Although I’m not certain of the kind of equipment Dachra was shot with, I can say with certainty that the source master was probably 2K or of lesser resolution. For a film that’s shot with a minimalist style and drained-out color palette, I found the encode to handle the limited source very well and it doesn’t too much attention to the limitations, like lack of depth in the black levels and a harsher, contrast-strewn look. The lack of texture can sometimes look off, but it doesn’t call attention to itself and is resolved decently in 1080p. This is a decent presentation for the most part.
A very fun and expressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is included here and it really puts in some legwork to emphasize the dread and terror in the film. Notes like consistent, loud rain dripping and hitting metal gains added life and dimension in the surround channels. This is a mostly front-focused soundtrack, but the soundscape opens up beautifully in the heightened moments of the film. If you have a home theater system, you’re sure to enjoy this track.
Dekanalog doesn’t add much by way of special features, but credit is given to the brief introduction by film curator Evrim Ersoy, where the Turkish curator describes his experience finding Dachra for the first time and how it ties within his own regional horror interests. There’s a booklet with a critical essay by Laura Kern and an interview with the filmmaker included as well.
Although Dachra is far from a modern horror masterwork, it showcases international horror and solid filmmaking despite the budget limitations. The video transfer is solid considering all things and the 5.1 surround track is a great inclusion in this one-disc Blu-ray release that I think is Worth A Look!