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Far East Extreme: Truth or Zar? We’d pick Zar every time!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 | Opinion


Happy post-Valentines Day, readers of Rue Morgue! Here at Far East Extreme, I take a look at horror movies from a country and usually try to compare them to other horror movies, or to put them in context and show their place in the cinema of that nation. Except the idea of films showing their “national character” doesn’t always hold water. Case in point is today’s film, 2017s Zar.

What do you get when you take that dumb dead teenager film mold, and add that special Persian flavor? Zar! Our tale begins with Hootan, a moody cynic who grudgingly goes to a giant old house with 5 friends to celebrate two of them getting married. You may ask yourself, how do people in notoriously pious and conservative Iran let loose? The answer of course, is the same as any wholesome American gathering circa-1980: booze, cocaine, and board games! The crescendo to this night of debauchery is a power outage, and Hootan seeing a spooky ghost! If you think I’m taking the movie lightly, rest assured that the filmmakers did their homework: this movie is just as hilariously dumb as any throwaway Hollywood scarefest that get dropped in theatres every Halloween without fail. Here we have all the familiar jumpscares and stupid interpersonal conflicts, with the added bonus of watching some 30-somethings acting as 20-somethings play dodgeball and spin the bottle!

“What do you get when you take that dumb dead teenager film mold, and add that special Persian flavor? Zar! .”

Who says all Iranian horror must be stylish or socially aware? Why can’t they be as dumb as the rest of us? Here’s the dumb teenager movie “all growed up”. The added benefit, you see, is the adults still act like kids: Abed is a callous dick to everyone, and obvious final girl candidate Sepid so clearly despises all her supposed friends that you can’t help but wonder why she’s there at all. Despite the corny acting and thin plot, the work behind the camera is extremely solid. The slow build up to the real horror, complete with slow-mo close ups and creepy demon growls, actually establishes some honest to goodness mood, only to be destroyed by an errant dodgeball. Later on, the group gets “trapped” in the haunted mansion (which actually looks nothing like the purportedly same house from the flashback) in a Cabin Fever type scenario which could all be solved quite easily if anyone were smart enough to, you know, just leave! Strange as it seems though, there is actual acting here; the actors all pull off the dumb act with aplomb. To think, if there were actual good writing this film could rise above the tired premise and be worth more than a laugh! I’m honestly curious as to what local audiences think of this film, because to a seasoned horror fan, a scene like a haunted TV turning on and off is just kind of cute. Perhaps they don’t question why, you know, an old timey ghost understands how modern cell phones work or even what they are.

Despite all that, it’s still mostly a fun romp. Fact is, horror movies don’t have to be serious or smart. As long as you keep your expectations in check, Zar is a decent low-key popcorn horror flick. Invite some friends and make your own MST3K riffs when things get especially stupid, namely the slow and boring ending.  I trashed Indonesia’s Rumah Dara for aping American movies, but it’s honestly fine here just because the film isn’t trying to be that special. It’s good for a horror movie night, and sometimes that’s good enough.

Alex Ehrenreich
I'm a writer and horror-lover currently living in Tokyo. Be sure to check out my column "Far-East Extreme" where I write about the best in Asian horror cinema every month.