Clearly, we’re always prepared for a horror film on the Blog Collab. Gory slashers, serial killers, creepy stalkers–all have been welcome here (at least as fictional characters). This week’s horror is a change of pace, much more in line with the eerie Gothic of another recent French film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And, just as with that film, there are going to be several things that burn.
A young woman is haunted by her lover, a construction worker who disappeared after his boat overturned while seeking a different life in Spain.
As construction wraps up on a looming skyscraper in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, the crew completing the job has had enough. The men who have built the tower haven’t been paid in months…and businessman Mr. Ndiaye, who owes the money, is conveniently out of contact. Sounds familiar, eh?
Young lovers Ada and Souleiman must deal with the additional complication of keeping their romance a secret. Ada is expected to marry a wealthier man, Omar, in a matter of days, though her heart belongs to Souleiman.
Though a childhood friend insists Souleiman is merely a test of her commitment to Omar, Ada continues to sneak around with her boyfriend, planning to meet him at a beachside bar at night. However, with nary a word of notice, Souleiman and several of the other construction workers have taken a boat in an attempt to reach Spain. After a terrible storm, all of the men are presumed dead.
Meanwhile, a depressed Ada proceeds with her wedding ceremony. The celebrations take a shocking turn when the couple’s marriage bed seems to spontaneously combust. But someone or something must have set the fire…right?
To investigate the mysterious happenings, young detective Issa arrives and immediately suspects Souleiman, who has been spotted recently. As a result, Ada is suspected of aiding and abetting…but Souleiman can’t possibly have survived the shipwreck.
To make things worse, several characters, including Issa, are stricken with an unrelenting fever. The young women who suffer fevers during the day appear to be possessed at night, arriving at Mr. Ndiaye’s to demand the wages they are owed as the embodiment of the deceased construction crew.
As Ada receives texts from someone who claims to be Souleiman, she becomes increasingly convinced it’s the real deal. But how can that be true when Souleiman is dead?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
I have to admit the meandering, rather unconnected plot for most of the film was a distraction for me. There’s not a ton of structure here, though the way the end ties everything together is eminently satisfying. And the Gothic ambience really steals the show here, what with the mysterious fires, ghostly appearances, and possessions.
The Atlantic Ocean is a huge part of this atmosphere, and its many moods reflect the film’s translated title, Atlantics. Then again, perhaps the marketing team simply wanted to make sure results from The Atlantic weren’t the only results when searching for the film’s title. Either way, it cannot be a coincidence that the Atlantic here promises a new life for those crossing the ocean. This, unsurprisingly, is a false promise, as it was historically for Africans transported by boat into slavery. The film’s themes of exploitation, labor, and capitalism weigh heavily on us as an audience.
Also impossible to ignore are director Mati Diop’s feminist themes. It’s refreshing to see Ada pursue what she wants rather than what her family and faith demand of her. I also have so much time for the way the young women in this film demand compensation for the deceased workers of the construction crew. Even though they are possessed by the spirits of men, it is the women Mr. Ndiaye must contend with, and whose physical bodies intimidate him into meeting their demands. Female power plays a vital role in seeing some measure of justice carried out.