Film review: Sandstorm (2021)

As this short film develops, it is clear that cultural norms, virtual blackmail, and issues of revenge (not quite porn, as this is focused on sensuality, not nuditty) are the main drivers affecting this young woman and her online boyfriend.

At twenty minutes it does an excellent job of racheting up the tension and highlighting how just the simplest of decisions can place the unwary and naive in danger. This is Zara’s story, from her perspective, in contemporary Pakistan.

Seemab Gul writes and directs this piece with a definite eye on how Muslim society views women and their behaviour, with all the issues that are involved with growing up in a patriarchal society.

As Zara, Parizae Fatima’s performance is very understated and naturalistic, appearing somewhat younger than she is. As her boyfriend and abuser Omar, Hamza Mushtaq is far from just the villain of the piece, displaying charm and charisma.

In the director’s notes for this piece, Gul notes that a certain amount of improvisation was allowed to make Sandstorm feel grounded in reality, and also notes the challenges of creating the final scene within a locked-down Karachi.

This is a contentious piece which flirts with danger; after all, issues around shaming the family can sometimes lead to the death of young women just trying to fit into the norms that others take for granted. It is often difficult for Western observers to understand why even movement and dance can be seen as sinful or unclean.

Sandstorm is a piece that has its own blend of energy alongside some intense and beautiful moments of direction and cinematography. It does feel as if it ends with some abruptness, but in doing so, it makes its point.

Watch the trailer for Sandstorm here: