RIYADH: Halloween starts early with the national premiere of Saudi Arabia’s latest horror film ‘Junoon’, directed by brothers Maan B. and Yaser B., bringing new meaning to the genre in the Kingdom’s cinematic history.
On Wednesday, the premiere took place at Saudi Arabia’s largest cinema at Boulevard Riyadh City, attended by 485 guests, including media personalities, content creators and filmmakers. The event also featured hired extras playing bloodied zombie victims.
When a group of young creators are on a mission to discover the most supernatural activity of Suicide Rock in California, they call on an American vlogger. On their travels to Los Angeles, the fun adventure they thought they were embarking on takes them down a dark and dangerous path.
“The found footage style is very unique and quite difficult to achieve. It took us three years to make this film… It’s a unique style, there’s a lot of spontaneity and it reflects reality. People always check their social media, and the characters they saw in the movie reflect that,” co-director and star Maan B. told Arab News.
The film features a predominantly Saudi cast, including Maan B, Ida Alkusay, Saleh Alem, Sumaya Rida, as well as Brazilian filmmaker Noan Ribeiro.
The story was inspired by Maan’s experience living in a building full of Vine influencers, whose job it was to attract the highest level of social media views and engagement.
“That’s where the idea came from, chasing fame and what you would do for the content. I saw it before my eyes; they would go crazy and crazy. We took that concept, we we mixed it with horror, with jinns and a lot of aspects,” Maan said.
He credits screenwriters Marwan Mokbel and Pedro Paulo Araujo with implementing the concept.
At the time, the Logan Paul scandal dominated the news, a situation where a social media personality posted a video of a man who had hanged himself at Suicide Forest in Japan, which was later criticized by the public .
Thus was born the character of a man who wants to be famous and will do anything to achieve this goal, no matter what.
“Our society, especially Arab, Muslim societies, they believe in supernatural (forces). It’s part of the culture, religion and everything. It’s something that got planted in us at a young age. We wanted to incorporate supernatural horror more than anything related to zombies or monsters, things we don’t believe in. It’s something in our culture that we might believe more of, so it’s more relevant to us,” Talha B., the consulting producer for “Junoon,” told Arab News.
Although the public premiere date wasn’t supposed to be this close to Halloween, he admitted it was a happy coincidence. “It’s almost too good to be true that it happened, so it’s in our interest,” Talha said.
Alkusay, who portrayed Jiji in the film, said it was the first film project she had been involved in at the time of filming. Seeing the work on the biggest screen in Saudi Arabia brought about feelings of pride and accomplishment.
“It was a wonderful experience. We had a lot of difficulties — there were scorpions, spiders. . . In fact, we have been through all the events that we have been through. The script was an optional type of thing; we just got rogue a lot,” Alkusay said.
“Even though in our culture we don’t celebrate Halloween, for anyone who does here, it’s the perfect Halloween movie, and it’s also made in Arabic,” she said.
The film falls within this newly established local genre, preceded by other Saudi films such as the 2016 film Madayen, the 2018 short film “Don’t Go Too Far” and the 2022 thriller “Kayan”, which was premiered in theaters last month. Another film, written by GEA Chairman Turki Alalshikh, titled “The Cello”, wrapped filming last year and is set to premiere in 2022.
“I think what makes (this film) special is that it’s not purely horror, it’s got comedy and adventure and some thrillers. The style of found footage in general makes it realistic, and that realism either shocks or frightens the audience. That’s what I like about the film,” co-director Yaser B. told Arab News.
Ultimately, the film proves that Saudi creators have the talent and passion to tackle all cinematic genres. With direct support for arts and entertainment from the government as part of Vision 2030 goals, this film shows only the beginning of the capabilities of Saudi filmmakers.
“The first thing we need from the Saudi public is to believe in Saudi films,” Yaser said.
His brother Talha argued this: “They should believe more in Saudi stories and Saudi talent instead of giving all the talent or the money (to others). There is goodness in our people; there are stories, there is talent, so give them a chance to create.
The film toured several festivals, winning “Best Feature Film” at the Faten Hamama Festival and “Best Cinematography” at the NICE International Film Festival in France. It was also selected for the Malmo Arab Film Festival and the Red Sea International Film Festival.