Cannes 2023: The Enigmatic Terror of Egypt’s ‘The Call of the Brook’
Egyptian short ‘The Call of the Brook’ doesn’t rely on cliché scare tactics, instead, it unsettles viewers using eerie imagery.
Almost every culture around the world has its own version of the monstrous feminine, be it Medusa, the Yuki-Onna of Japanese folklore, or flesh-eating mermaids. They all usually take the form of stunningly beautiful women, often devouring young men. In Egypt, El-Nadaha (‘The Caller’) haunted every young Egyptian while growing up. The tale goes that a female spirit calls on you at night. The demoness, usually situated by the Nile, the sea, canals, or a brook, depending on which version of the folktale you hear, lures men into following her, before they end up drowning, or losing their mind.When I heard that an Egyptian filmmaker was tackling this tale at the Cannes Film Festival, I was thrilled. However, given Egypt’s track record when it comes to the horror genre, I had to lower my expectations. That said, I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed watching this short. It doesn’t rely on cliché scare tactics such as cheap jump scares, and instead unsettle viewers using eerie imagery and a dreadful sinister tone.The film is centred around a protective mother and her son. We learn that, years ago, the father of the household was a victim of the menacing spirit haunting their rural village. There’s an old Egyptian saying that goes, if you’re scared of something, you’ll attract its presence. Sure enough, El-Nadaha makes her first appearance.
To say anything more would spoil the film for you, but I did find myself wanting more. What’s even more impressive is that Jad Chahine shot this film over the course of a single day. Give this young man a budget and a lengthier shooting schedule, and there’s no telling what he can achieve.Chahine clearly has a good understanding of the importance of constraint in filming spine-chilling tales. With great horror films, it’s not what you reveal on screen that matters, but what you leave out of the frame; there’s nothing more frightening than our own imagination. I hope that one day Chahine turns this short film into a full-length feature that builds on the mother-child relationship. Afterall, sometimes the true horror is not out there, but within.‘The Call of the Brook’ was selected to compete in the festival’s La Cinef competition.
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Dec 03, 2023