My notes on Achoura La Nuit des Enfants, which screened at the Ramaskrik Film Festival.
There have been several interesting horror movies with North African settings, and use of local lore – the French-Algerian The 16th Episode, the Israeli JeruZalem, the Tunisian Dachra. This French-Moroccan film, directed by Talal Selhami – who co-wrote with Jawad Lahlou and David Villemin – is set around a local holiday night, when children traditionally throw water at each other, and features an impressive child-eating monster, Bougatate, who is at once an ancient African djinn, a creepypasta-like urban legend, and a franchise-friendly fiend (a little like the Creep from Jeepers Creepers).
The basic plot outline is also irresistably reminiscent of It, though the film gets through its multi-timeframe story in regular featurelength. It begins with two prologues, in both of which children are lured to an abandoned French mansion in a foggy marsh and fall under the influence of Bougatate, who can sometimes be contained inside a human being and bound by strapping a horse’s bit on the unfortunate possessee. Then, in the present day, cop Ali (Younes Bouab) is glumly investigating an occult mystery while his ex-wife Nadia (Sofia Manousha) is disturbed by images in an art exhibition by their mutual friend Stephane (Spanish horror regular Ivan Gonzalez) which bring back suppressed memories of their childhood experience with the monster. Samir (Omar Lofti), Ali’s long-missing brother, shows up with that bit in his mouth, guarded by a mystery man (Moussa Maaskri) who could have explained himself better – the bit comes off, and the monster escapes to terrorise the grown-ups who gave him a hard time when they were kids.
It’s standard genre fare, very closely patterned on American or Japanese horror film formulae – but the cultural context makes it fresh, and the versatile, impressive monster (which has a detachable face that flaps open to reveal a head-swallowing maw) delivers proper scares and shocks.