Alkhalat+ (2023) Review: A thief was taken hostage in a pompous marriage. A cook is trying his best to save his parents’ failing marriage. A man tries to hide a dark secret from his dead friend. And a teenager looking for a way to escape the strict eyes of his father in a hotel. These four stories form the core of Netflix’s latest anthology film Alkhalat+ (2023).
Based on the viral digital web series of the same name, Alkhallat+ (2023) is Saudi Arabia’s first film on the streaming platform. Directed by Fahad Almari, the film has four distinct segments united by a recurring stock of clumsy characters who find themselves trapped in absurd scenarios. The result is a mostly entertaining, though exhilarating mix of situational comedy and dramedy, led by a capable cast.
Set in a somewhat sophisticated pillar of Saudi Arabian society, the film’s four segments feature characters that are somewhat inconsistent with their courtly setting. The first section (titled “Wedding”) begins with a long take around a house that sees its residents getting ready for the titular ceremony.
After several failed attempts, the bride’s brother leaves the house to smoke – when he suddenly witnesses a thief named Faisal trying to steal the tires from the family car. After a long chase, Faisal is captured by the family, while two of his partners in crime are on the run. The wedding is already late, the family has no time to wait for the police and so decide to take the tied-up Faisal to the groom’s house.
Now it is up to Faisal’s partners to disguise themselves as wedding guests and rescue them from the venue. One of the funniest segments of the film, “Wedding,” is also the most formally innovative. Almari heightens the tension in his scenes with the use of multiple long takes, slow-motion shots, and an ominous contrapuntal background score.
Not to mention that the film has one of the most mysterious and comical uses of camera pans in recent memory! However, the neat execution of the almirah premise tires towards the end when the story does little to pay off the extended setup it sets for itself.
“The Last Dinner”, the most subversive segment of the film, revolves around a chef Sarah working in the kitchen of a posh restaurant under the martinet gaze of an English head chef. But making delicious dishes isn’t the only thing on Sara’s mind. To save her parents’ failing marriage, Sara books a table for them at the hotel with the help of her friends Muhanad and Hend.
Despite his best intentions to set up a date for his parents, things go awry when the hotel manager appears with a surprising announcement. Sarah must juggle belongings inside the hotel while making sure the animosity between her parents doesn’t escalate. While “The Last Dinner” continues with the themes of deception, lies, and trickery, it is more blatantly explicit than its predecessor.
With the third segment, Almirah changes the aspect ratio to 1.66:1, and that’s when the Alkhlat+ starts to wane. The drop in quality isn’t due to the change in screen size, but rather the lack of narrative focus in the last two volumes. “The Dead Washer” is one of the more serious sections of the film, covering themes of infidelity, death, and friendship.
After his friend Fahad dies in a car accident, Hamad must make sure that Fahad’s wife, Reem, doesn’t find out any dark secrets about her friend. Although Reem considered her husband to be a faithful and loyal man, Fahad had a mistress on his side. Now, it’s up to Fahadh to ensure that her best friend’s secret is buried with her, but it doesn’t prove to be that easy as Reem begins to suspect something about her dead husband.
This is followed by Hamad’s awkward attempts to take possession of Fahad’s cell phone and erase all its data before Reem finds out about her husband’s extramarital affair. Despite featuring solid performances, “The Dead Washer” doesn’t come together toward the end, the feeling of its somewhat shocking ending mostly unearned. “Dubai Trip,” the film’s closing episode, is a trite and unfocused banal comedy whose plot seems to be an amalgamation of 2000s Bollywood comedies.
In the segment, a stingy father takes his family on a trip to Dubai in an expensive hotel. Things spiral out of control when the eldest son sneaks out of his hotel room at night to get an autograph from his favorite sports star. With each passing moment, the segment becomes increasingly ridiculous, with neither the heart nor the wit of its previous episodes.
Unlike other Netflix anthologies, Alkhalat+ is not helmed by four different auteurs, who bring their unique vision to each segment. Despite this perceptible difference, Alkhalat+ feels like a hodgepodge of four disjointed episodes whose only common thread appears to be its gauche protagonist.
It falters further when the narrative attempts to offer any sort of social commentary, be it a taunt on Sharia law or the precarious position of women in Saudi Arabia. The film’s strongest moments come when it throws its characters into embarrassing scenarios, which gives this comedy a suspenseful edge.
Watching these well-intentioned but clumsy characters navigate their way through these intriguing dilemmas also provides a thematic foundation for a film that has little reason to be a cohesive compendium.
Even though Alkhalat+ only offers a sliver of content coming from Saudi Arabia, it still marks an auspicious Netflix debut for the country.