Azrael (2024)

Azrael Review


Film Review

The movie Azrael is about speechless, bloody revenge and a woman fleeing a religious cult while there are zombies or something. But the story can’t be told through images. This ain’t it chief! When an image doesn’t match up with what’s trying to be portrayed, the result is pure nightmare fuel, but more often than not it just leaves you asking “huh?”

Written words establish that we’re in a post-apocalyptic world where Christian fanatics have given up “the sin of speech.” It’s not clear if that means no one speaks at all or just the Christians. Either way, E.L. Katz’s horror film starts mid-story and not in medias res as some artsy types might say with a girl (Samara Weaving) who has crucifix brand smack-dab on her throat walking through the woods and continually looking behind her and then telling her boyfriend (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) to stop making fire. They both commit to acting extremely hard, flailing their arms and bodies around passionately; this would work really well if they were on Broadway instead of in this movie.

It seems like they’ve only been mute for like five minutes when really they should have been mute forever. In other words: They don’t understand each other at all, which makes sense because they are strangers thrown together by dangerous circumstances except also there is no clarity around what those circumstances actually are.

Anyway she gets captured by armed members of their cult that militarized itself seemingly overnight and they tie her up and slice open her shin with a rusty blade so she’ll bleed for some reason but honestly I’m still kind of unclear if blood is even supposed to be the thing here because then immediately after the cultists start huffing and puffing like they’re trying to suck air from way down deep.

That summons a flesh-eating ghoul out of nowhere that looks like a zombie except maybe it got torched too and so its skin is all blackened and falling off. Then Weaving gets free and runs around the woods looking for Stewart-Jarrett as the sunbeams shoot through the trees in these really crazy ways but she doesn’t call out or anything even though the movie establishes that loud noises will attract monsters but also never shows any actual risk of speaking out loud only desire. There are eventually some hints that maybe this lifelong mutism thing was surgical because of scars and heavy breathing throughout silent screams etc. but then there are also grunts and vocalizations, which are wordless sounds that humans sometimes make with their voices.

Nobody knows why Weaving is on the run. Is she trying to escape from circumstances never depicted as oppressive? Was a ceremonial zombie sacrifice intended as punishment for running away or what she was running from in the first place? But maybe Weaving’s white, Stewart-Jarrett is black, and few black cult members can be seen the film’s casting choices do offer a clue to what’s really going on, though this would imply that its villains have an anti-miscegenation agenda; however, the lack of clarity only grows through heavy-handed symbolism. There are certain scenes and story choices, such as Stewart-Jarrett being chained to a tree stump or another body being hung from a tree, that evoke trigger images of anti-black racism throughout American history yet they rarely add up to a coherent thesis statement about the movie’s premise.

Religious worldbuilding attempts in “Azrael” just make things more confusing. The cult has a creaky wooden church staffed by a pregnant priestess and filled with paintings that are implied to be premonitions; at some point, Weaving’s character gains some supernatural ability to see into the future herself. However, it isn’t explained whether this power has anything specifically to do with her persecution or if it’s just random chance every time something new happens.

“Azrael” only gets viscerally shocking when it occasionally amps up the gore during delightfully violent moments otherwise these sequences tend not even to rise much above dimly lit but many are obscured by shadow. It does have cacophonous sound design: Every footstep, breath and gunshot is emphasized on an ear-splitting level despite coming from characters whose hearing (and relationship to atmospheric sound) seems entirely unremarkable based on what we’re shown. This isn’t “A Quiet Place,” where sound triggers danger and doom; however, more attentive technical world-building might have pulled us deeper into Weaving’s environment through her eyes.

There are few outright scary moments in “Azrael,” but once its apparent premonitions come true, it does contain chilling hints of the occult and supernatural. Yet they seem assembled within the edit not to suggest any relationship between Weaving’s character and these visions, but rather as attempts to explain them to an audience when the image couldn’t do the job on its own. What is clear is that it involves righteous bloodshed (the title refers to an angel of vengeance); what Weaving’s heroine is fighting for or against, though, remains too undefined for any amount of action beats no matter how viciously executed to be emotionally rousing.

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