Review: ‘In Syria’ is a real-life horror movie

Tom Long
The Detroit News

There’s a claustrophobic chill to the harrowing “In Syria,” a sense of being closed in with no good options for escape.

While part of this has to do with the fact that the film is confined to an apartment and parking lot, mostly it has to do with the truth. The apartment is in some unnamed, war-ravaged town in Syria. The people within it are the last survivors in the building. They have nowhere to go and no safe way to get someplace else anyway.

It’s a horror movie setup: There be monsters out there and soon they will come for us. But it’s a horror movie setup in a real world situation.

That situation is established early on. The apartment belongs to Oum (Hiam Abbas, “Blade Runner 2049”), whose husband is missing and who’s in charge of her own daughters and her father-in-law. But the place is also a refuge for stragglers from the building, most notably Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud), and her husband and baby.

Halima and her husband hope to flee to Beirut come nightfall, but first her husband has an errand to run. As he races across the parking lot a shot cracks the air and the husband falls to the ground.

The only one who sees this is Delhani (Juliette Navis), the family’s housekeeper. She runs to tell Oum, but Oum decides not to tell Halima, reasoning that she will run outside to help her husband and end up shot, as well.

So there’s deception inside and monsters outside. And not a whole lot of hope to go around.

Writer-director Phillippe Van Leeuw makes this all the more miserable by making it real. There are meals to be served, a small boy playing pranks, a teen couple making moon eyes. This isn’t some other dimension, this is life on earth.

And it is both awful and too timely. The monsters exist — witness recent chemical gas attacks, the hundreds of thousands dead, the millions displaced. “In Syria” is a finely made film — brisk, well-acted and filled with tension and mean twists. But it’s also a wake-up call and a cry for help.

Will anybody listen?

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

‘In Syria’


Not rated

Running time: 85 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre