Directed by: #XiaMagnus
Written by: #XiaMagnus
Sanzaru may be set on a farmhouse, in the rural state of Texas, in modern-day America, but it owes a great deal to the Gothic-horrors of yore and plays out decidedly like one. For here, in Xia Magnus’ psychological horror, the ghosts inherit the bones of the house; residing in its halls and walls and memories.
Detailing the crumbling remains of the Regan household, whose matriarch, Dena (a brilliant run from Jayne Taini), is engulfed by dementia and reliant on home care. And, whose daughter, Susan (Tomorrow Shea), has moved away, and whose son, Clem (Justin Arnold), is living out of a trailer and seemingly uninterested in caring for his mother. But it’s through the eyes of home-care worker Evelyn (a fantastic lead performance from Aina Dumlao) that we see the erosion, and eventual breaking down, of this family unit. A woman with her own demons and whose mental state soon starts to become entwined with that of the house.
There’s something inherently gothic about the way Sanzaru presents itself. The isolated rural setting, the dark family secrets, and the slow-burning suffocation of its all-enveloping atmosphere seem to take influence from movies like The Innocents, The Others, and the more recent, The Little Stranger. It has, of course, transitioned away from the opulence of the stately home to more modern and modest dwellings. It’s a transition that works well here and the film benefits from some beautiful cinematography from Mark Khalife which helps keep the film entrenched in its gothic roots with some gorgeous framing and slow, purposeful camera movements.
But it’s Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs’ original score that really steals the show. Her work, a masterpiece in anxiety-ridden foreboding, is full of sinister and ominous-sounding tracks interspersed with uncomfortably long silences. It grabs the viewer from the very beginning and refuses, at any point, to let go.
Where Sanzaru lacks is in the storytelling, or to be precise, in concise storytelling. By the end of the film, several things still remained unanswered (stuff I can’t discuss without going into spoiler territory), and because of this, the payoff is quite disappointing. This disappointment is only exacerbated by the fact that this is a real slow-burner of a movie, and with the amount of build-up throughout the film, it can leave the viewer feeling more than a little deflated.
While the third act may be disappointing, if you like simmering-pot horror (as I do) and can enjoy the journey – the build-up of dread throughout the first two acts – there’s a lot to like about Sanzaru. There’s no jump scares here and no over-the-top, evil entities. In fact, it’s up for debate whether there’s even anything supernatural going on at all. What there is, however, is a well-crafted and thought-provoking piece on the fragility of the family unit that will stay with you long after it finishes.