KVIFF 2022: Iranian Horror “Zalava” is an exciting supernatural fable
by Alex Billington
July 3, 2022
Everyone knows the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat, To the right? Is there a cat in the box or not? Here is the formal definition: “In quantum mechanics, Schrodinger’s cat is a thought experiment illustrating a paradox of quantum superposition…a hypothetical cat may or may be considered both alive and dead at the same time as a result of its fate associated with a random subatomic event don’t appear.” How can that be true of a horror script? Well, you have to watch and find out. Zalawa is a horror film from Iran that completely shook me up at a midnight screening at the 2022 Karlovy Vary Film Festival. I’m catching up now after it premiered at the Venice and Toronto 2021 Film Festivals last fall. Holy hell I’m glad I haven’t read about it before because it’s an exciting experience to discover exactly how they created a brilliant Schrödinger’s cat horror about a demonic force threatening a remote village in Kurdistan.
All I really want to do is rave about and talk about this movie (once you’ve seen it!) and get everyone else I know who loves horror to see it too. I don’t want to go into detail but I have to, otherwise how else could I write this review. Zalawa is the directorial debut of the Iranian filmmaker named Arsalan Amiri, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Tahmineh Bahramalian and Ida Panahandeh. That often happens at film festival premieres, but I’m impressed that this is a feature film debut. This filmmaker has a talent for coming up with some incredible cinematic ideas and I was struck by the suspense and chills in every scene. The biggest complaint I have is that the sound design and mix is terrible. There’s a horse sound for a donkey at one point, and footsteps and even breathing are annoyingly exaggerated and sometimes out of sync. But oddly that gives it a vintage 70s/80s genre movie vibe that doesn’t ruin it at all, it’s part of the experience. Not every movie can be perfect, and some of your all-time favorites are likely to have flaws like this.
The main character in Zalawa Interestingly, the antagonist, a strict local police officer named Masoud Ahmadi, is also played Navid Pourfaraj. His enemy is actually the protagonist, a local exorcist/demon catcher named Amardan, who is played perfectly Pouria Rahimi Sam. All locals love Amardan because it helps them get rid of a demon (or demons?) that come back every year and haunt this small town built by gypsies centuries ago. But the police don’t like him, and Masoud considers him a con man, a charlatan trying to make money off the locals and local government by “pretending” to get rid of this demon. But is there Yes, really a demon? Is he really faking? who is the impostor in this story? This is part of the mystery and intrigue of Zalawa, and I love how they build the concept and let it play with a specific object that becomes the focus of attention in the film. Sometimes simplicity reigns, and here the filmmakers handle that simplicity perfectly, giving it a life of its own with the most basic of props. Cinema magic at its finest.
The whole time I saw this, it reminded me of the thingand I always thought the whole movie is John Zimmerman level good. Not just how raw the story is presented, how authentic the characters are, but also how the tension within the scenes is built through dialogue and conversation. When this particular prop kicked off, I was completely hooked on the crazy ride that was ahead of me. Non-stop suspense and every scene as clever as the last. I’m sure this type of movie will upset some viewers, but I loved watching this one, I was totally into it. Even when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, I was excited to keep watching and finding out, caught up in the filmmaking and thrill of this story. I hope with more time more will find and enjoy this fantastic Iranian horror film and discover how remarkably clever he is with his concept of Schrodinger’s cat. It could become a cult classic. It definitely deserves the credit, that’s for sure. Amardan Rules!!
Alex’s KVIFF 2022 rating: 9 out of 10
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