Iran has a rich history of making some of the best cinema coming out of the Middle East, despite the numerous obstacles placed in the way of directors. It has been Persian filmmakers who have often made the transition to European festivals and won international awards. Over the last decade we’ve seen a number of filmmakers, often from the diaspora, branching out into horror. The likes of Under the Shadow, The Night and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night have all found global audiences. Zalava approaches the genre from a unique angle.
Nestled amongst the mountains of North-Western Iran, the village of Zalava is cursed by a plague of demons which residents believe roam in their midst. The locals have taken matters into their own hands, employing a brutal and potentially deadly form of bloodletting and calling on an exorcist (Pouria Rahimi Sam) for help. A sceptical government officer (Navid Pourfaraj) arrives to investigate reports of demonic possession, determined to disabuse the villagers of their outdated notions.
Set during the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, Zalava toys with themes of modernity versus tradition and religious faith to create a creepy and tense horror. Arsalan Amiri’s film bathes in the superstitions and folklore of the region, allowing the imagination to do much of the heavy lifting. A love story between the inscrutable Gendarmerie and a doctor (Hoda Zeinolabedin) adds another layer to the narrative. Zalava is an intensely eerie and atmospheric curio.
Zalava screens at Toronto International Film Festival.