SXSW 2024: AZRAEL: Theological Survival Horror Continues Samara Weaving’s Scream Queen Reign 

Minor Spoilers Follow.

We are living in the midst of a fairly glorious trend in cinema: the age of the dialogue free movie.

Whether the conceit is successful (A Quiet Place, No One Will Save You) or largely unsuccessful (Silent Night) is very execution and premise dependent, but something about removing dialog from the storytelling component of a film, an inherently visual medium, is intriguing to me. Director E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills) and screenwriter Simon Barrett (You’re Next) dip their toes into the dialogue-free experiment with the post-apocalyptic horror film Azrael, starring the game Samara Weaving. And their execution of the mechanic is largely successful and additive to the horrific world they have built. 

I already led in with a spoiler warning just because, thanks to the film festival environment, I was able to walk into Azrael knowing nothing but the names of the talent I’ve already mentioned and a logline for the film. I didn’t even know it was dialog free heading in. And that was a great way to experience Azrael. In all likelihood more and more details will pour out and audiences will have trailers and stills and reviews like this one to prepare them for what they’re going to experience. And if that unblemished experience is what you want, I’ll just say that Azrael is a thrilling survival horror tale, anchored by a profoundly committed Samara Weaving, who will somehow get even bloodier than she did in Ready Or Not. For those who might want to know a little more, I’ll dive into some of the world building and theological components of the film below and still steer clear of major plot point spoilers so that the journey is unsullied for you.

Katz and Barrett made a damn Rapture movie, folks. Yes, I mean to say that the unique post-apocalypse of Azrael is set in a world where the Judeo-Christian “end times” are real and the righteous faithful have long since departed this world for heaven. Those who remain? They’re kind of fucked. Our characters belong to some type of cult who has chosen to gouge out their own vocal chords, seemingly blaming their own lying and deceitful tongues for the horrors of their existence. Without dialog we’re only given some “chapter title” style Bible verses on screen to indicate the beliefs of our characters. I didn’t even know until the end credits that Azrael was actually Weaving’s characters’ name! But let me tell you, as both a person of faith and a lover of post-apocalypse cinematic visions: Seeing a brutal horror film set in this darkly theological vision was a bit of cinematic catnip for me, not to mention a setting I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen before. It’s good when the lack of dialog makes the synapses in your brain fire and leaves you wanting more and asking all kinds of questions once the end credits roll, rather than just losing your interest.

Setting aside, Azrael is more of a grueling survival horror experience more than anything else. The setting and theology lurk around the edges and otherwise, Azrael is just trying to, like, LIVE, Man! We meet her seemingly on the run alongside of a lover. Beyond a frightening priestess drawing a picture of Azrael on the wall of their creepy chapel (production design and lighting are stellar here), we don’t really know what sin she committed, or whether their romance was somehow forbidden. All we know is her own people are out to kill her and she’ll do anything it takes to survive. Weaving is already deeply established as a charismatic star and Azrael rests profoundly on her shoulders as the lead. She’s in virtually every shot of the film and it’s a deeply grueling ordeal. She’ll fight, she’ll crawl, she’ll crash. Shot at? Stabbed? Creeply fondled by horrendously burned humanoid creatures? Check. Weaving is game for it all in the tradition of Bruce Campbell being tortured through every Sam Raimi film. And it shows. Weaving is vital to the believability of this world and the film would have died on the vine without her committed star turn. 

Lean, ambitious, and clear in its vision, Azrael is a unique horror film in a landscape overstuffed with repetition, and it’s a refreshing and relentless ride. I recommend you hop on it. 

And I’m Out.

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