(director/writer: Meshal Aljaser; screenwriter: based on the story by Nawaf Alshubailic & Meshal Aljaser; cinematographer: Ibraheem Alshangeeti; editors: Laith Majali, Meshal Aljaser; music: Omar Fadel; cast: Adwa Bader (Sarah), Khalid Bin Shaddad (Father), Amal Alharbi (Mother), Oumkalthoum Sarah Bard (Saad), Miriam Alshagrawi (Hadeel), Yazeed Almajyul (Saad), Jabran Aljabran (party host &  poet); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Almotaz Aljefri; Netflix; 2023-Saudi Arabia-in Arabic with English subtitles, or dubbed in English)

“An incoherent thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Meshal Aljaser‘s feature debut is an incoherent thriller from Saudi Arabia. It’s a tale about how women are kept under wraps in a repressive patriarchal society, and is based on the hollow story by Nawaf Alshubailic & Meshal Aljaser.

It begins with a prologue set in 1970 with a man carrying a weapon into a hospital. Then it transitions back to the present. It shows the disobedient young adult Saudi woman Sarah (
Adwa Bader), who lives at home in a wealthy traditional household and has a strict father (Khalid Bin Shaddad).

Sarah goes on a shopping trip in Riyadh with her ill-humored
friend Hadeel (Miriam Alshagrawi), but that’s only a ruse to go on an unchaperoned date with her irresponsible, boorish, secret boyfriend Saad (Yazeed Almajyul). Sarah knows she better meet her dad where they planned to meet at 10 p.m., or there would be severe repercussions. Yet the squabbling and stoned couple drive on the desolate roads in the desert in his Chevy Impala and somehow hit a camel. They are on their way to a party they were invited to at the desert campsite of a young hack poet (Jabran Aljabran).

At the party, the hallucinating Sarah has a spat with her hostile girlfriend Saad (Oumkalthoum Sarah Bard). Later things get chaotic when there’s a police raid and she’s separated from her untrustworthy boyfriend.
This viewer was confused about what message the filmmaker was delivering–like if this was supposed to be a satire on the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabian society, a black comedy, a cautionary tale or perhaps a misguided desert thriller. I chose it to be the latter.

Whatever. The film is vapid, the actors limited, the frequent pan shots from a shaky camera is annoying, and its blurry non-linear execution makes it hard to follow its timeline. And, if that is not bad enough, its forced humor is too foreign for my taste.

Also, I never learned what Naga means, not that I really care. Nor did I care if Sarah made it home in the trunk of a stranger’s car before her curfew.

It played at the Red River Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 12/15/2023  GRADE: C