Curse of Mesopotamia (2015) poster

Curse of Mesopotamia (2015)


Mexico. 2015.


Director/Screenplay – Lauand Omar, Producers – Fekri Beroshi, Khaled Haddad, Julie Ann Honadel, Donall McClusker, Lauand Omar & Jesus Roldan, Photography – Luca Ciuti, Music – Roozbeh Mosleh, Makeup Effects – Troy Holbrook, Tom Luhtala & Sleiman Tadros, Production Design – Samira Yazdanfar & Sima Yazdanfar. Production Company – Deebo Films/Visual K/Mena Film.


Mauricio Rousselon (John/Kawa), Hania Amar (Veronique/Gule), Melissa Mars (Amira/Queen Lale), Stacy Thunes (Dr Barbara/Efrite), Terrell Carter (Tony/Karmael), Ahmad Massad (Ahmed), Ana Carla Sinclair (Dalia/Queen Kandalana), Karim Saidi (King Azdahak), Kaoutar Boudarraja (Zuleykha/Z), Daniel W. Smith (Demon)


In Los Angeles, the former soldier John visits the therapist Barbara in an effort to deal with the troubling recurring dream he experiences. Barbara tells him that she has a group of other patients who all experience the exact same dream. She has identified the locale in the dream as a castle in Kurdish Iraq and has agreed to fund a trip to take them all there for immersion therapy. The group arrive at the castle and are welcomed. Via Barbara’s hypnotic regression, they recall their past lives as the various wives, harem girls and guards of the cruel King Azdahak. John discovers in his previous life that he was Kawa who led a rebellion to overthrow Azdahak. However, Azdahak was in thrall to a demon, which is now awakened and seeks to kill all of them.

Curse of Mesopotamia claims to be the first Iraqi horror film. While this makes for a great headline, it is not exactly true. It is exactly the same as the way that A Girl Walked Home Alone at Night (2014) misleadingly pitched itself as an Iranian horror film when it was in fact made by expatriate Iranians outside the country. Director Lauand Omar is a Kurdish filmmaker, born in Syria. He had previously directed the Iraq-shot film Bekhal’s Tears (2006) and then made the supernatural tv series Khasma (2014).

Omar also lives outside of Iraq in Mexico – thus the film’s production company is in Mexico not Iraq meaning that it should correctly be listed as a Mexican film. One suspects that the reason Curse of Mesopotamia is listed as an Iraqi film is because some people are unable to distinguish between a country where a film is shot on location and where the money comes from and the production company is based. By the same reckoning, that makes Star Wars (1977) a UK/Tunisian/Guatemalan production and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) a UK/Norwegian production.

Lauand Omar roots the film around the cultural phenomenon of Nefroz, the Kurdish New Year which is celebrated around March 20th. The legend goes back to at least 1000 A.D. when the story was first written down and concerns the blacksmith Kawa who led a revolt against the evil tyrant king Zahak who had reigned for a thousand years. Zahak had serpents growing out of his shoulders and demanded the sacrifice of young men on a daily basis. A festival is held on the date annually, the point of the spring equinox, to celebrate Kurdish identity with the lighting of fires.

Kaoutar Boudarraja in Curse of Mesopotamia (2015)
Kaoutar Boudarraja as an ancient harem girl

Normally, this cultural backdrop would be sufficient to push Curse of Mesopotamia to a certain type of cultural niche at international film festivals. On the other hand, it is rooted far too much in being a horror movie to take advantage of its cultural cachet. It is also a film that for all its pitch to being an Iraqi horror film is very much sold to American audiences – it is shot with the actors speaking in English rather than in Kurdish, for instance. The point-of-view character is Mexican actor Mauricio Rousselon playing a Iraqi soldier living in Los Angeles, while the film recruits several other US actors (Stacy Thunes, Terrell Carter) and the Mexican Ana Carla Sinclair, who play alongside other Middle Eastern actors. Moreover, the characters have very Westernised sensibilities – Melissa Mars plays a porn actress, while Terrell Carter admits to being bisexual – that you suspect might not have been as acceptable if this were a film being financed and produced in Islamic-dominated Iraq.

Omar makes a reasonable stab at telling the story of Zahak and Kawa, albeit minus some of the more fantastical flourishes – I would have loved to see the manifestation of snakes coming from the king’s shoulders but the film is operating on too low a budget to pull that off. The film is essentially about a Haunting – one where the figures from the past are either reincarnations of or reach out from the past to replay events in the present-day to visitors that are drawn to a locale with a past. The performances are generally capable. Omar delivers one or two gore effects. Mostly though, the plot and the film’s pitch for the horror market make for a competent but unexceptional work.

Trailer here

Actors: , , , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , , , , ,