With its glittering black-and-white cinematography, immersive sound design, eerie score and creepy reveal, the film taps into something primal and chilling, with the taut first third particularly strong. But the narrative’s momentum and clarity dissipate in the middle and final sections even as the visuals continue to impress. Still, the boldly inventive Scales marks Ameen as a talent to watch.
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Scales is a grim movie as much as it’s a gorgeous one. It isn’t without hope, but hope is in short supply, on land and underwater.
Ameen prioritizes symbolism teeming with sensory spirit over plot-based narrative, which ultimately renders her attempt at making a political statement too opaque and disjointed to have much of an impact.
Saudi director Shahad Ameen’s mesmerizingly bleak fable Scales accomplishes something many films attempt but generally bungle: It tells a highly symbolic tale while conveying recognizable human emotions.
It tests your tolerance for ambiguity as well as your visual acuity. Yet the spell it casts justifies the intense anxiety it creates by depicting a black-and-white society in which men have worth and women don’t.
While some elements of the story don’t work as well as the visual playground Ameen sets up for her characters, Scales is still an impressive feature debut.
With a more patient script that’s richer in character detail, Scales could have been breathtaking. As it stands, it’s a slight visual feast.