Tag Archives: Zoe Renee

Freshman Blues


by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Mariama Diallo’s episodic and short film work has explored — in comedic and dramatic form — the impact of living within a culture of micro- and not-so-micro-aggression. Her feature debut Master dives deeper, taking themes in more horrific directions.

Regina Hall plays Gail Bishop, the first Black residence hall “master” in the long and storied history of New England’s Ancaster College. In her first year on campus, she’ll meet another newcomer, freshman Jasmine (Zoe Renee), the only Black student in her dorm.

Jasmine has the bad luck of being assigned to the dorm’s spookiest room, where a student haunted by campus’s legendary witch once killed herself. As freshman year progresses, both Jasmine and Gail begin seeing menace around every corner.

Diallo sets up shop at the intersection of racism and misogyny. While her story tells of a history of racism that’s clearly alive and well, the filmmaker’s comment on institutional and historical contempt for women is more sly but ever-present.

The result for this particular position in the crosshairs is a palpable, inescapable sense of loneliness. If there’s one thing Master communicates it’s the isolation and aloneness both Gail and Jasmine face at this institution and, more broadly, in this world. The effect is poignant and sincerely scary.

It’s always great to see Hall at the center of a film. The veteran has provided reliable support, both comedic and dramatic, in films for ages. Her frustrating but sympathetic lead offers the perfect balance to Renee’s vulnerability.

Amber Grey’s turn as confidant Liv Beckman is superbly brittle and narcissistic. Likewise, a sea of white faces (Talia Balsam, Will Hochman, Bruce Altman, D.C. Anderson) hit varying degrees of condescension and hostility to create a drowning pool with little chance of escape.

Diallo struggles at times balancing allegory and horror story. On occasion, genre tropes become too obvious. At other times, the obviousness of political points overtakes cinematic narrative. But the underlying horror of reality ably depicted by Hall and a game cast make sure these minor issues remain minor.

Primal Scream


by George Wolf

Well, that escalated quickly.

Ron Burgundy may have played that line for laughs, but when the boys in Gully give in to their rage, things couldn’t be more serious.

Or devastating.

Jesse (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), Calvin (Jacob Lattimore) and Nicky (Charlie Plummer) are three teens in a rough L.A. neighborhood who don’t have much use for anything besides violent video games and partying, or anyone besides each other.

They skip school, do drugs, and only seem enthusiastic when they’re trashing a store or living vicariously through video violence.

In fact, through the film’s first act you’re tempted to label this as a hackneyed attempt by director Nabil Elderkin (a music video vet helming his first feature) and writer Marcus J. Guillory (a TV vet with his first screenplay credit) to blame video games for society’s ills.

But hang on and strap in, that’s far from what these filmmakers have in mind.

To say the three friends have had traumatic upbringings is being far too polite. Each has weathered a uniquely hellish situation, leaving them all on the precipice of manhood with little hope for the future.

As Nicky fights with both his mother (Amber Heard) and his pregnant girlfriend (Zoe Renee), Jesse dreams of life without his abusive father (John Corbett) and Calvin struggles with his mental health and the meds pushed on him by his mother (Robin Givens), the boys make a shattering discovery and the fuse is lit.

They begin a 48-hour rampage of wanton violence and calculated revenge, and it will not end well.

Elderkin makes sure the violence is in your face and packed with stylish grit, often blurring the line between reality and video game action. It’s an ambitious play that’s worthy even when it seems over the top, much like the contrasting tones brought by Greg (Jonathan Majors), an ex-con returning home determined to stay clean, and Mr. Christmas (Terence Howard), a homeless neighborhood philosopher.

This film is messy, angry, brutal and defiant, a primal scream that doesn’t much care if you think it’s nihilistic. Elderkin and Guillory have blazing guns of their own, and while they don’t hit every bullseye, there’s enough here to make you eager for their second act.

The world of Gully isn’t a pleasant place to be, and that’s no accident. But a confident vision and three terrific young actors leading a solid ensemble will make sure you’ll be thinking about what goes down here, even if you look away.