The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam (2014) by Mohammad-Reza Lotfi

A film-crew decides to film a documentary about a friends' wife's disappearance.


Not necessarily a renown source of genre filmmaking, Iran has dabbled in the horror genre from time-to-time in the past with a few entries even if there hasn't been a breakout hit in the region. With his new effort 'Ravayate Napadid Shodane Maryam,' or internationally known as 'The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam,' director Mohammad-Reza Lotfi attempts to break out with Iran's first faux documentary piece in the genre.

Investigating a friends' disappearance, actors Majid Shokri and Yaser Jafari are approached to recreate the unfinished documentary for Morteza and his wife Maryam. As they continue their journey, they start to encounter a darker series of secrets to their relationship than what was initially thought which they think tends to offer a true explanation for the events that befell the couple which included confrontations with black magic and the spirit world. Trying desperately to help her, the friends resort to rather unconventional methods to help her while he attempts to finish his film.

For the most part, this isn't all that terrible an offering. Keeping in mind that this is a country's first attempt to offer this kind of story, 'Maryam' is quite accomplished in this regard. The first half is the expected recreations based on the available information at the start of their assignment, as the film mixes together interviews with friends and relatives as well as splicing in the footage shot by the couple before the incident. Starting small with the strange behavior she exhibits and the concern others have for Maryam, this starts the film off on a rather light note that builds to darker degrees the more it carries on. By incorporating the spirit realm and the local belief in the Djinn which is prominent in the story, there's a gradual darkness that links through the footage of the couple in the past as well as the recreations taking place in the present as the actors doing their scenes start to come under the same influences.


While nobody is actively bad here, it's also hard to get a handle on the actors. Since this one relies on both Majid and Yaser appearing as both themselves as well as playing characters in the recreation footage, it's sometimes hard to tell which segment is really occurring during the time. It's really only afterward that you can what part of the film had just occurred, and that's only because they appear the same in either setup. The real actors playing Morteza and Maryam in the flashback footage are much better, with Morteza slowly turning into a sleazier version of himself trying to capitalize on his wife's illness and Maryam gradually becoming more obvious about her condition. However, it's the professor Dr. Afshin Yadolahi who really comes across best here. His calm demeanor and appearance denote somebody with a professional background and lends a dignity to the scenes as someone genuine trying to make her better.

While the film may have some positive elements, it also has some prominent flaws. The biggest issue is the film's restrained and sluggish pace. Those expecting some kind of breakneck supernatural-driven force driving the downward spiral here are going to be severely bored by the film as very little actually happens. The newly-shot scenes are merely floating head interviews pieces that offer up a potentially chilling idea but which is severely hampered by this documentary format. There's little about the black-and-white flashbacks that really scare beyond one sequence of them interviewing a couple during a burial, and both formats result in an intensely dialog-driven piece without much going on. This need for mood and character-driven chills makes for a solid story but it doesn't generate the kind of thrills that are more appropriate in such a story that includes potential avenues of possession, black magic and the folklore of the region. Those elements really could've added more to a terrifying story at the film's heart yet the decision to downplay it all for these dialogue-heavy scenes is what lowers the film.

Despite a few small issues to be had with the film, on the whole, this is quite an enjoyable and somewhat accomplished effort. Keeping in mind that this is the country's first attempt at such an effort, it's a watchable enough affair that could really be worthwhile to those that can appreciate this kind of storytelling.


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Asian Film Vault: The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam (2014) by Mohammad-Reza Lotfi
The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam (2014) by Mohammad-Reza Lotfi
A film-crew decides to film a documentary about a friends' wife's disappearance.
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