Fantastic Fest Review: Arsalan Amiri’s ‘Zalava’
Uniquely set in the fictional Iranian village where the film derives it’s title, Arsalan Amiri’s Zalava is a masterfully crafted example of how to effectively build powerful on-screen tension using the absolute minimum required ingredients from a production standpoint. Following an increasingly skeptical military officer who’s growing tired of the locals’ extremist beliefs regarding the existence of demonic entities which they believe are inhabiting their village, Zalava uses only it’s talented cast and a glass jar that may or may not contain one of these “demons” to create the majority of the tension across the film’s tight ninety-three minute runtime.
A regional exorcist named Amardan arrives at the village of Zalava to exorcise the demon, which afterwards he claims to have trapped in the aforementioned glass jar, much to the villagers’ delight. After a heated debate the unconvinced military officer places Amardan under arrest, setting off a chain reaction of events in the village that raises the paranoia of both the characters and the viewer to the maximum. Watching the conflicting parties collide over the contents of the jar is incredibly engaging on it’s own, but there’s smartly more depth added through the characters who fall somewhere in between the officer and the villagers’ more radical positions on the matter, such as a local doctor and the officer’s subordinate who both play vital parts in the overall trajectory of the narrative despite being as unsure as anyone what’s really going on.
The vision here seems more in line with something like Timothy Covell’s recently released minimalistic thriller Blood Conscious than a large scale folk horror production like Ari Aster’s Hereditary as it’s more interested in taking social issues and presenting them in a creative, horror themed way than actually being scary to watch moment to moment; much like the former it manages to successfully turn many of it’s potential flaws due to budget constraints into strengths via intelligent, politically charged writing regarding the Iranian revolution. It’s a very dialogue heavy film that’s light on the bloodshed which will shy away many viewers but if slow burn, paranoia-ridden pacing is something you look for in horror then this will most certainly deliver, despite an ending that will leave some wanting more. LevelK Film has picked up international distribution rights, so keep your jars open for further release information on Zalava, which will be added here as it’s revealed.