'Naga' Saudi Netflix thriller Movie Review

The review of the first work by Saudi director Meshal Al Jaser, a crazy and unconventional thriller released on Netflix on 7 December 2023.

Image Credit: Netflix

2017, cinematically speaking, was a year of turning point and rebirth for Saudi Arabia. After seven interminable decades, a royal decree has in fact removed the bans linked to the previously banned cinemas, which has allowed Saudis to return to frequenting them. An important sign of openness that some analysts have interpreted as another attempt (along with that of finally allowing women to drive) at modernization by the young heir to the throne, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the effects have been seen very narrow circle. 

Not even six years have passed since the announcement and Saudi Arabia has become the country with the fastest growing box office on the planet. In this way the local audiovisual industry was once again able to import and distribute foreign films on its screens, but also produce and export films made on national territory. Netflix has made and is making a significant contribution to the cause, which in recent years has welcomed works flying the Saudi flag onto its platform, the last of which was released on 7 December 2023. This is Naga, the first work by Meshal Al Jaser, presented at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023 in the Midnight Madness section before its release on the Stars and Stripes platform.


Naga is a psychedelic flow based on drugs, hallucinations, bloodthirsty camels and pyrotechnic escapes

Nega tells the odyssey of a young woman named Sarah who, after a romantic date at a clandestine party, finds herself stuck in the desert dunes several miles away from Riyadh, while trying to get home before the cold snaps. curfew imposed on her by her conservative father. Her will be an adventure during which she will have to avoid disturbing men and the furious wrath of a dromedary who wants to avenge the death of his cub, in a non-stop race against time which is also a real fight for survival. 

In fact, there is no pit stop or useful moment to catch a breath for the protagonist and consequently, for the spectator on duty, both forced to face an authentic tour de force that lasts almost two hours. A timing, the one that marks the fruition, in which the rigid rules of engagement of a traditional vision must necessarily disappear and with them both the logical explanations and any prejudice towards the narrative credibility to the events, with the latter being deliberately suspended to leave the field free for a psychedelic flow based on drugs, hallucinations, bloodthirsty camels and pyrotechnic escapes. All immersed in a pitch-black night in which anything and the opposite of anything can happen.

Image Credit: Netflix

An absolute lack of self-control, which translates on the screen into an unpredictability of the characters' actions and the developments of the story

These are the ingredients of a cocktail to be enjoyed which, due to its modus operandi, contents, and dramatic and technical schizophrenia, brings to mind Lola Runs, Crank rather than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This makes it a pleasant surprise for that very large segment of the public who was expecting yet another social drama, the legitimate child of a hard, rigorous, and raw cinema verité. 

In short, Naga is one of those films that you don't expect from a cinematography like the Saudi one, even if in those parts signs of a change of direction had already been seen with Mandoob and more recently with Sattar. With these works signed by compatriots, Meshal Al Jaser's debut shares an expressive freedom never seen before in those parts, but above all an absolute lack of self-control, which translates on the screen into an unpredictability of the characters' actions and the developments of the tale.


A hybrid and trans-genre product, that seamlessly mixes thriller, action, crime, horror, and survivor movie

The result is a hybrid and trans-genre product, that seamlessly mixes thriller, action, crime, horror, and survivor movie. An explosive mixture that flows in the timeline from the first to the last frame available with and through the work in front of and behind the camera. Debutant Adwa Bader puts herself completely at the service of the camera and the director in the role of the protagonist with an effective, convincing, and extremely physical performance that would have put anyone to the test. 

In turn, the Saudi filmmaker immediately puts his foot on the accelerator with sequences of great visual impact and adrenaline (see the dizzying opening shot or the chase with the police in the desert after escaping from the camp) which challenge at the same time the gravitational laws and the spectator's coronaries. To do this, the author shatters any linguistic and/or aesthetic rules and breaks the classic patterns of editing with discontinuous editing that is perfectly functional to the type of project and its genetic code. It may be as imperfect, absurd, and shattered as you like, but as far as we're concerned it's an enjoyable and unconventional product. In short, a pleasant discovery.

Image Credit: Netflix

Naga: evaluation and conclusion

From Saudi Arabia, a film that you don't expect breaks linguistic and aesthetic rules to give life to a first trans-genre work that is as free in content as it is in form. Despite narrative imperfections and a threshold of credibility that is deliberately lowered, Naga represents a pleasant surprise for all those who love crazy and psychedelic stories that push characters and enjoyment to the extreme. Newcomer Meshal Al Jaser and his talented protagonist Adwa Bader launch themselves at full speed in an authentic tour de force in a race against time based on drugs, hallucinations, bloodthirsty camels, and pyrotechnic escapes in the desert. Photography, sound, and editing work in unison with the camera and writing to create a crazy and unconventional project.

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