Trying to get my hands on as much horror from African nations as I could, I saw the Egyptian film Warda on Netflix and proceeded to watch it. This movie shares in a trend I’ve been noting in other supernatural horror films from predominantly Muslim nations: using the language of major American horror movies (particularly the Conjuring and Paranormal Activity franchises) to present both conflicts and reinforcement of faith. The ones I have watched ranged from good to awful. I’m glad to report that Warda falls on the better spectrum of that range.
Director: Hadi El Bagoury
Writer: Mohamed Hefzy
Notable Cast: Tareq Abdalla, Nada Al Alfi, Ahmed Awni, Bassel El Kadi, Emad Ghoniem, Farouk Hashem, Samira Magroun, Abeer Mansour, Youssef Mohamed, Ahmed Selim
Plot: Walid, a video blogger, returns to his Egyptian countryside home to document and investigate strange happenings that have been disturbing his family since the death of his father. (source: IMdB)
Commentary: To fill in the gaps that the IMdB description left, you should know: 1) this is a found-footage film that mirrors Paranormal Activity in style; 2) the character of Walid brings his girlfriend Emna, who was Amsterdam-raised; and 3) the “strange happenings” is essentially the possession of his younger sister, the titular Warda, by an evil spirit.
I enjoyed Warda, but I enjoyed it much more for the hints of the characters we were given and less for its execution of a possession horror story. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like that the possession was remarkably low-key. Your average American post-Exorcist knock-off is 9/10 a dull stew of a girl/woman in a nightgown, contortionism, blasphemies, puke, levitation, etc etc. In Warda it plays out in a very quiet way, although you still get a girl in a nightgown.
However, there was still something missing. You can have a horror movie that’s more atmosphere and less gore, but it still requires some shocks, some lingering anxiety, something to make you jump off your seat, and I personally didn’t register it here. That could be a function of my jaded horror junkie viewing habits, though. I am wondering what Egyptian culture and norms make of supernatural horror films, and whether by necessity they can’t go too far in depictions of supernatural evil.
Kudos to actress Nada Al Alfi, who as Warda did bring a certain unique creep to the goings on. She did a great job.
I thought Walid, Emna, and especially Walid’s mother and uncle, were interesting enough to sustain this film. You could remake this as a drama or even a romantic comedy. Why, you ask? Because…
What We’re Afraid Of: … this film is really about the tensions of the modern, young, Western-acclimated man coming back to visit his traditional family from a traditional culture. Was the possession indicative of the tension in values and ‘morality’ between Walid and his family? Walid and Emna drink and smoke pot. Emna is attractive, she dresses in Western style with no head covering, and she’s self-assured. I was half expecting a Mother/Emna clash worthy of many a romantic comedy or drama.
And this type of story can extend beyond religious norms. I sensed an underlying sadness/guilt from Walid at both the death of his father and his younger sister Fateh (whose death triggered Warda’s possession). No matter the culture I think anyone that leaves home feels a measure of guilt for ‘not being there’ in the pursuit of their own life. Warda’s possession seemed to me like a Greek chorus underlining all these personal tensions, and its for this reason that I liked the movie.