Alkhallat+ (2023) Review: A thief held hostage in a boisterous wedding. A chef is trying her best to salvage her parents’ failing marriage. A man is attempting to hide his dead friend’s dark secret. And a teenager seeking a way out of his father’s strict eyes in a hotel. These four stories form the core of Alkhallat+ (2023), the latest anthology film from Netflix.
Based on the viral digital web series of the same name, Alkhallat+ (2023) marks Saudi Arabia’s debut on the streaming platform. Directed by Fahad Alammari, the film has four distinct segments united by a recurring stock of clumsy characters who find themselves caught in absurd scenarios. The result is a mostly entertaining, though overlong blend of situational comedy and dramedy led by a competent cast.
Set in a somewhat sophisticated column of Saudi Arabian society, the four segments in the film feature characters who are somewhat incongruous with their courtly setting. The first segment (titled “Wedding”) begins with a long take around a house that sees its inhabitants getting ready for the titular function.
Following several failed attempts, the bride’s brother sneaks out of the house for a smoke—when he suddenly sees a thief called Faysal trying to steal the tires from the family car. After a long chase, Faysal is captured by the family while his two partners in crime escape. The family, already late for the wedding, has no time to wait for the police and therefore decides to take a tied-up Faysal to the groom’s house.
It is now up to Faysal’s partners to disguise themselves as wedding guests and rescue him from the venue. One of the funniest segments in the film, “Wedding,” is also the most formally innovative. Alammari accentuates the tension in his scenes with the use of several long takes, slow-motion shots, and a sinisterly contrapuntal background score.
Not to mention that the film has one of the most suspenseful and comedic uses of a camera pan in recent memory! However, Alammari’s neat execution of the premise gets weary towards the end when the story does little to pay off the extended setup it had set for itself.
“The Last Dinner,” the film’s most subversive segment, revolves around a chef Sara who is working in the kitchen of a posh restaurant under the martinet gaze of an English head chef. But making exquisite dishes is not the only worry on Sara’s mind. To save her parents’ failing marriage, Sara books a table for them in the hotel with the help of her friends Muhannad and Hend.
Despite her best intentions to set up a date for her parents, things go awry when the hotel manager appears with a surprising announcement. Sara must juggle stuff inside the hotel while ensuring that the animosity between her parents does not extend further. While “The Last Dinner” continues with themes of deception, lies, and trickery, it is more narratively pronounced than its predecessor.
Towards the end of the segment, the film tries to resolve its conflict rather melodramatically, but surprisingly Alammari grounds this resolution within realistic parameters lending it a bittersweet flavor. The last-minute subversion prevents the film from being reduced to an extended soapy short film.
With the third segment, Alammari changes the aspect ratio to 1.66:1, and that is when Alkhallat+ starts to dwindle. The dip in quality is not due to the change in the size of the screen but rather the lack of narrative focus in the last two segments. “The Dead Washer” is one of the more serious sections of the film, covering themes of infidelity, death, and friendship.
After his friend, Fahd, dies in a car accident, Hamad must make sure that Fahd’s wife, Reem, does not get to know a dark secret about his friend. Although Reem believed her husband to be a loyal and faithful man, Fahd had a mistress on the side. Now, it is up to Fahd to ensure that his best friend’s secret gets buried with him, but this does not prove to be as easy as Reem begins to suspect something about her dead husband.
What follows next is Hamad’s awkward attempts to get hold of Fahd’s cell phone and erase all his data before Reem learns of her husband’s extramarital affair. Despite featuring solid performances, “The Dead Washer” does not come together towards the end, with its somewhat shocking ending feeling mostly unearned. “Dubai Trip,” the culminating episode of the film, is a trite and unfocused banal comedy whose plot seems to have been an amalgamation of various 2000s Bollywood comedies.
In the segment, a parsimonious father takes his family on a trip to Dubai at an expensive hotel. Things spiral out of control when the eldest son ventures out of the hotel room at night to get an autograph from his favorite sports star. With each passing moment, the segment gets increasingly ludicrous, having neither the heart nor the wit of its previous episodes.
Unlike other Netflix anthologies, Alkhallat+ is not helmed by four distinct auteurs who bring their own unique vision to each segment. Despite this perceptible difference, Alkhallat+ feels like a blend of four unrelated episodes whose only common thread seems to be its gauche protagonists.
It further falters when the narrative attempts to offer some sort of social commentary, whether it be jibes at the sharia law or the precarious position of women in Saudi Arabia. The film’s strongest moments arise when it throws its characters into embarrassing scenarios, which further lends this comedy a suspenseful edge.
Seeing these well-intentioned but clumsy characters make their way through these tricky dilemmas also provides a thematic ground for the film, which otherwise lacks any reason to be a cohesive anthology.
Even though Alkhallat+ only offers a bite of the content to come from Saudi Arabia, it nevertheless marks an auspicious Netflix debut for the country.
Alkhallat+ (2023) Trailer
Alkhallat+ (2023) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Alkhallat+ (2023) Cast: Fahad Albutairi, Ismail Alhassan, Vishesh Chachra
Worshipper at the altar of the holy trinity of Sidney Prescott, Wes Craven, and Kevin Williamson. A connoisseur of everything related to cinema, especially the dark and depraved.
1990s 2000s 2010s 2011 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2020s 2021 2022 2023 Action Adam Driver Adventure Animation Anurag Kashyap Apple TV+ Bengali Biography Black Comedy Canada Cannes Cate Blanchett Certificate: PG-13 Certificate: R Certificate: TV-14 Certificate: TV-MA China Christian Bale Color Comedy Coming of Age Crime Dark Comedy Disney+ Hotstar Documentary Drama English Ethan Hawke Family Fantasia Fantasy France French German Germany Greta Gerwig HBO Max Hindi History Horror Hulu India Italian Italy Japan Japanese Korean Leonardo DiCaprio Malayalam MAMI Marathi Martin Scorsese MUBI Music Musical Mystery Netflix Netflix Original NYAFF Oscars OTT Paul Dano Poland Prime Video Romance Rooney Mara Satire Sci-Fi Short Film South Korea Spanish Streaming Sundance Sundance Film Festival Tamil Thriller TIFF Trailer TV Mini Series TV Series UK USA War Western