The Movie Waffler Now On Netflix - ATLANTICS | The Movie Waffler

Now On Netflix - ATLANTICS

atlantics review
After drowning at sea, the spirits of a group of migrant workers return for vengeance.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mati Diop

Starring: Abdou Balde, Aminata Kane, Ibrahima Mbaye, Amadou Mbow, Mame Bineta Sane

atlantics poster

William Shakespeare meets John Carpenter in actor/filmmaker Mati Diop's feature debut, Atlantics. Diop's promising bow behind the camera, which blends a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance with the setup of The Fog, is undermined by a muddled script that feels like it never made it past the first draft.

Like Rungano Nyani's I Am Not a Witch, Atlantics sees an Afro-European filmmaker cinematically exploring their African homeland with a drama rich in supernatural elements.

atlantics review

In Diop's case, that homeland is Senegal (her uncle is the acclaimed filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty), whose capital, Dakar, provides the stage for this drama of vengeance from beyond the grave.

Having gone three months without being paid for their construction work on a skyscraper that looms over the city like a great white elephant, a group of men decide to hop aboard a boat bound for Spain, without telling their wives and girlfriends. Among the men is Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who leaves behind his distraught lover Ada (Mame Bineta Sane).

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Ada and Souleiman's romance was kept secret, as the former was set to be wedded off to Omar (Babacar Sylla), a wealthy but cold and materialistic businessman. On Ada and Omar's wedding night, the marital bed catches fire (no, not like that - it literally catches fire!), and witnesses report seeing Souleiman in the vicinity.

atlantics review

Assigned to investigate is a young and determined detective, Issa (Amadou Mbow), who suffers from strange bouts of unexplained sickness. It's an affliction that spreads to the women left behind by their migrant men, who it turns out have perished at sea and are returning in spirit form to possess their women and seek vengeance on the building tycoon who owes them money.

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Aided by the dreamlike cinematography of Claire Mathon (currently earning raves for her work on Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Diop's direction is at times intoxicating. The film's standout sequence sees Issa attempt to drive home before sundown, when he suspects his body will become possessed by one of the drowned men. Diop constructs it like the chase scene of The French Connection, intercutting Issa's sweat-laced face with shots of the sun edger closer and closer to the horizon. Earlier, Ada and Souleiman's affections are established with clever use of a passing train, the lovers catching brief glimpses of each other in between passing carriages. The supernatural elements display a love of genre cinema, with everything from Lucio Fulci's The Beyond to Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock referenced.

atlantics review

But as visually alluring as Atlantics is, it suffers from a script that struggles to pull its disparate elements together. We're left asking several questions, chief of all why the men would collectively up sticks without telling any of the women, and why when all the other men are possessing their lovers, does Souleiman opt for a male host instead? Atlantics is at its most involving when focussed on Issa's investigation, and it may have been wiser to centre this element rather than following the less interesting subplot of lovelorn Ada, which despite Sane's empathetic performance, never quite rises above its star-crossed stereotypes.

Atlantics is on Netflix UK now.

2019 movie reviews