Getting its UK premiere at Frightfest 2022, Mastemah is a French psychological horror/thriller directed by Didier D. Daarwin and starring Camille Razat and Olivier Barthélémy.
The former plays Louise, a psychiatrist who has been studying the effects of hypnosis on patients. Unfortunately, the test subject commits suicide following a session of hypnosis and naturally, Louise blames herself. It takes such a psychological toll on her that she decides to move to a small, rural village where she hopes to help the locals with their issues while fixing her own.
Her hope of the mundane and peaceful life is interrupted though when a new patient comes her way. This man, Théo (Barthélémy) comes wanting one thing, hypnosis. He claims it’s the only form of therapy that eases his mind and allows him to sleep. The only form of therapy that stops him seeing horrific visions.
However, as Louise attempts to help Théo, she finds his issues become her issues and she begins to suspect he is not who he seems.
Now, there is a clue to the direction that the film is going in. For you see, Mastemah is a Hebrew word meaning “hatred”, “hostility”, “enmity”, or “persecution”. As well as that, Mastema is an angel who appears in the Book of Jubilees. He carries out punishments for God, as well as tempting humans and testing their faith.
The film isn’t coy about hinting that Théo may be the personification of Mastema, yet carefully treads around making it definitive by focusing on Louise and her trauma. It’s how the two are linked that becomes the most interesting part of the story. It feels predictable, as stories like this have been told before, yet Mastemah is a puzzle and the final pieces don’t fully fall into place until the very end of the movie.
The full picture is revealed, confirmation of what many will have suspected, but are now able to understand. Happily, it’s a satisfying, if not bleak, finale too. Which, of course, wouldn’t have even half as much impact if the quality of acting that comes from Camille Razat and Olivier Barthélémy wasn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, they are both wonderful in their roles, in particular when called upon to reverse their stances.
Unfortunately, while all of that is praise worthy, as is how visually arresting the film’s dark hue is. Making everything feel cold, alongside the location has an impressive sense of isolation. The film needed a decent amount of trimming to make it snappier and less slow in places. At 100 minutes long, there’s a real sense of wasted time when not enough forward-movement happens or scenes feel pointlessly stretched. This would be forgivable if it happened once or twice but it happens a lot more than anyone would like.
Frustrating enough to ruin the experience? Not quite but it does harm it. Which is a real shame as when Mastemah picks up the pace, it’s very enjoyable. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in style.
The Final Score - 6/10