Azrael // A SXSW 2024 Review

I will watch any horror movie with Samara Weaving in the cast. This has been true since she proved what a badass she is in Ready Or Not in 2019. So, when I saw she was the lead in Azrael, I moved it towards the top of my list without asking questions. I am happy to report she has added another memorable performance in a genre movie to her resume. However, this action survival horror is a bit of a mess. 

Concept Over Story

Azrael is a woman on the run from a cult of mute zealots who want to sacrifice her to an evil entity. Weaving plays Azreal in this post-apocalyptic movie. Because there is almost no dialogue, and Azreal is one of the many people incapable of speech. Weaving and the remaining cast are tasked with helping us fill in the many blanks. Try as she might it is hard to convey a story that is not there. This is especially hard on an audience. We’re thrown into this world of vibes without character building or a concrete story to latch onto.

While some of the violence and bloodshed is cool, I was unsure what this movie was going for. As I reread the synopsis while the filmmakers explained the parts that evaded us after the screening, it did begin to make a bit more sense. However, I cannot help thinking there were ways to share that information during the movie. 

Breaking My Silence

Simon Barrett’s script feels like it forgot to let the audience in for most of the movie. We are left to fill in so many blanks that it becomes more of an exercise in imagination than a movie. Nothing of it is ever truly explained, but you almost forget that sometimes due to the awesome amount of violence. Director E.L. Katz has a keen eye for action scenes, so these are the parts where the movie excels. I also love the burned monsters who also pose a threat. They were also just thrown into this questionable soup, so never got the chance to be as terrifying or interesting, as they deserved.

I wish any parts of this puzzle gave us a full picture of what was in Barrett’s head. While the movie was less than 90 minutes, I think had it been shorter, I would have been less frustrated with the refusal to bring the audience into whatever was going on. It was a bummer to get to the end and realize none of the basic questions would be answered. 

The Traps It Fell Into

I love Samara Weaving even more than the next horror fan. However, I wish this movie had also given some of the very few (and minor) POC characters more to do. When we meet Azreal, she has a partner Kenan (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). Kenan seems to not understand the rules as the first time we see him he is starting a fire that Azreal puts out and reminds him they are on the run. So by the time they get around to killing him, we already saw it coming. He is not the only POC this movie gives the bare minimum amount of screen time to before giving them an unnecessary death. This sucks because the final battle is cool, but could have been cooler had a Black or Brown person been on screen long enough to have stakes in the plot. 

Overall, Azrael is a vehicle for Samara Weaving to showcase what she can do as a silent and violent final girl. Which is nice, but that is all that is working for this movie. She is an amazing actor and almost makes you forget this movie does not make sense in its current form. Perhaps, something got lost during revision. Or maybe there are parts on the cutting room floor that help give this title substance. I just wish the script had let the rest of us in on what it was trying to accomplish. Because I bet it is a better film than what we have here.