Maya (2022) [Women in Horror Month 2022] 

A young woman starts seeing and hearing things while living with her adoptive mother and sister. To try and get to the bottom of it, along with the help of her sister, she goes back to her childhood home where stories from the past and of djinns come to the surface. 

Written and directed by K/XI, Maya is a film based on true events and deeply rooted in tradition and folklore. For those unfamiliar with djinn folklore and stories, this film takes a more personal approach to the characters and stories, making it more about family than about the supernatural. Now, there is some supernatural in here, it’s simply more subtle and then it ramps up closer to the end. The playing with spirits (good or evil) is something that is shown as not being exclusive to the more-often-seen Catholic angle on things. Along with other films from the region that touch on djinns and on other traditional stories, this is a story that brings this to international audiences with a lot of talent and a clear passion for the subject. 

Playing the title character of Maya is Madiha Hidayat who does good work here. Her performance anchors the film and gives it emotional impact. She plays an adopted daughter who is mostly happy in her new situation, but also clearly needing some roots, something to connect her to her past and to her birth mother. The performance Hidayat gives here is mostly subtle throughout the film until things take a turn and she needs to ramp them up. Playing her adoptive sister she met through the orphanage is Ramsha Shaikh who works this part as the voice of reason and is also on the more subtle side for most of the runtime here. These two are the backbone of the film and their performances are sisters connect them to each other and to the story in which they evolve. Both turn in strong performances that are subtle when needed and more expressive at times. They sell the film here and make it something that feels like it is about a family, leading the viewer to get attached and able to truly be involved by the time the supernatural truly kicks in. 

The sound design by Tatsujiro Oto is quite strong in some places and the score is calculated in just the right way. This is a film where not all scenes have music, but those that do have music that really grab the viewer and gives them an extra layer to the story and the emotions. The film uses sound in a careful way and the work by Oto helps this greatly. Of course, these sounds are matched with cinematography by director/writer K/XI to create a complete experience. Their work here is something that reminds viewer that when the right audio and visual team comes together, a film can become an experience. 

Maya is a lower budget film with careful crafting behind it. From the writing and directing to the images and sounds, and including the acting, this is a film that tells a story by bringing talent together and ads a touch of supernatural that is not often seen. In a field where folklore and possession are so often connected to Catholicism and Christianity, seeing a film where the big bad is from a different source is refreshing. The fact that this is handled in such a careful manner shows respect for the stories it is based on and for the hundreds of years of traditions that influence the film.