Zalava (FANTASTIC) Is A Possession Film Pulsing in Paranoia and Pressure
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Arsalan Amiri
Writer: Arsalan Amiri, Tahmineh Bahramalian, Ida Panahandeh
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Navid Pourfaraj, Hoda Zeinolabedin, Pouria Rahimi Sam
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
With the apex of the Iranian Revolution imminent, Massoud (Navid Pourfaraj) is finishing his post in Kurdistan where residents of a nearby town practice rituals he deems superstitious. Believing their city is constantly at threat to demons, the locals adhere to rituals of bloodletting and rely on exorcists to save their loved ones from demonic forces. In an effort to curtail this, Massoud confiscated the town’s firearms before relenting to a court order to return them. These tensions come to a broil when an exorcist named Amardan (Pouria Rahimi Sam) claims to have secured a demon within a jar when answering his latest call.
A terrifying tale of the nature of belief, Zalava is an unwavering exercise in tension and primal fear.
Zalava triumphs in storytelling by crafting a unique narrative with strong characters. An unusual tale of possession, Zalava chooses to focus on how demons can make people behave. Even the threat of demonic possession throws an entire town into chaos and leads to greater intervention. The Zalavians know this to be their truth and whether demons do exist is irrelevant to their plight. What matters is that they will not be at ease until an exorcist frees them from the throes of the demonic entities that plague their town and kill their loved ones.
Massoud’s storyline is so well done. Spiritual trauma is central to his development and why he is so steadfast against feeding into what he believes is superstition. It’s ironic because his staunch belief against what he deems as irrational only serves to foil the exact behavior he looks down upon. Maliheh (Hoda Zeinolabedin) serves as the voice of reason, begging him to push aside science and visibility for the bigger picture. It’s amazing considering that she practices medicine and is a person who understands science. She is proof that there can be give and take between science and faith. Both are stellar in the roles, but Pourfaraj goes the extra mile here. Pourfaraj’s stoic and sharp performance mirrors the exact energy he needs to portray the shrewd officer.
Beliefs can cause people to act in ways that we don’t understand. Sometimes this manifests in violence, ostracization, and even hive mind mentalities that endanger others. When beliefs are challenged, this can cause overdo stress on others, especially if it is a deeply held belief on how their world works. It’s reasonable to assume that breaking this down won’t have the intended effect of the challenger. This is clear in Massoud’s work with the Zalavians. He disregards their feelings and worldview to “enlighten” them. It’s because of this arrogance and dismissal that Zalava ends in tragedy.
What I appreciate most about Zalava is that it focuses on the fear produced by the characters and not something that is physically shown. The interpretation of the entity and its consequences is different from person to person, which makes for a riveting watch. The fermenting chaos of the town bubbling up in the hot desert sun culminates in a finale that will have you glued to the seat and the screen. It’s effective horror that doubles as fantastic social commentary, relevant across cultures and eras. Tense, focused, and deeply human, Zalava finds horror in the horror in the moments that test our faith in ourselves and others.
An effective and chilling film, Zalava will stun audiences with its approach on faith-based horror. Anchored by strong performances and a tight script, this Iranian period piece poses deep and uncomfortable questions about human psychology while still delivering on its fantastic and unique premise. Fans of more understated horror will find plenty to chew on while those who appreciate the unique perspective of voices beyond traditional Western cinema will rejoice in the creativity behind Zalava. Believe me when I say that this is a must-watch possession horror film.
Overall Score? 7.5/10