On the 13th of December, sometime in the mid-1970s, a wealthy family threw a party in their mansion, numbered 13, with 13 guests of their closest family and friends— what unfolded that night left lingering impacts and consequences.
Is there something coincidental about the number 13? That is the question that Egypt’s latest thriller film Youm 13 (Day 13) tries to uncover.d
Released in theaters on 21 April, Youm 13 is the first local feature film to be released in 3D technology in the Arab world. Directed and written by Wael Abdallah, the film stars Ahmed Dawood, Dina El-Sherbiny, Sherif Mounir, Magdy Kamel, and a number of other celebrated actors and actresses.
Without forcing blood and gore, Youm 13 is a razor sharp, tension-filled thriller that respects the intelligence of the audience. The film follows Ezz El-Din (played by Ahmed Dawood), who returns to his family mansion in Cairo from Canada. After his return, Ezz El-Din stumbles upon unexpected adventures and is forced to confront an eerie part of his past—forgotten by the passage of time.
As a thriller, Youm 13 is arguably only enjoyable as of the second half of the film, whereas the first half of the film can be described as monotonous and dull.
Note: Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers. The below discusses key plot points of the film.
The plot: feeding into the superstitions
There is nothing that excites an audience like connecting scattered clues and schemes throughout a film with unforeseen twists and turns. Youm 13 starts with what seems like a dream of Ezz El-Din’s where he is drowning in a bathtub. Slowly, he wakes up as the airplane he is on lands in Cairo.
Nostalgic — and foreign — to his hometown, which he left 25 years ago, Ezz El-Din returns to his childhood home: a big mansion that lies in the heart of Cairo, which he plans on selling.
For the past two decades, the mansion has been abandoned—left deserted, dusty, and ominous—but Ezz El-Din is determined to open it so he could stay in it, despite learning from his family lawyer that the house is believed to be haunted.
Eager and desperate to uncover whether his house is truly haunted or not, Ezz El-Din seeks help from a spirit exorcist, Kaisom (played by Sherif Mounir) who helps him connect the dots and reveal the hidden truths.
Alongside Hanan (played by Dina El Sherbiny) who is Ezz El-Din’s lawyer’s wife and Kaisom,the three pull an overnight stay in the mansion to discover its secrets. In a doomy night, the three individuals experience paranormal activity,and are forced to confront the spirits’ vengeance.
Ezz El-Din learns that his mother has been murdered, even though he had been led to believe that his mother died of a natural cause his entire life. After a night full of frights and scares, such as lights switching off and Kaisom almost falling off their stairs, Kaisom believes that there is a spirit haunting the house. He then proposes that they reenact a simulation of 13 December—the night of the murder—with the 13 guests present at the party 25 years ago, to try and find out why it happened.
The guests are invited into the mansion, and they start retelling the story of how the night unfolded from their point of view. Flashbacks and parallels of the day are shown,and the truth is uncovered in the last 10 minutes of the film. The audience — as well as Ezz El-Din — discovers that he is the one who killed his mother when he was young, after he found out that she was cheating on his father with another man.
The reason this was erased from Ezz El-Din’s memory was due to his epilepsy, which ran in his family and caused significant memory loss for the protagonist. Yet, Ezz El-Din had an epileptic episode which brought back certain memories— such as his mother cheating on his father — and which led him to killHanan who reminded him of his mother.
For many people, the number 13 is considered to be unlucky—often regarded as ominous for the superstitious—and for Ezz El-Din, it marks a day that changes his life forever.
The watching experience: Egypt’s first truly bone chilling Egyptian thriller?
For decades, Egyptian silver screens have seen a wide array of different films, and excelled in the dramas, comedies, and romantic-comedies genres.
Despite the presence of other genres, Egyptian horror films have remained somewhat of the weakest link, often intertwined with comedy—whether on purpose or accidental.
In 2018, a survey indicated that only 24 percent of Egyptians listed thriller and horror as their favorite genres, as opposed to the 66 percent who said that they enjoyed the comedy genre the most.
Yet, Youm 13 defied the preconceived expectation of Egyptian thrillers. It is arguably Egypt’s first film that steers away from cheap thrills. The storytelling, parallels, and flashbacks in black and white have served to add more depth to the film, rather than making it a thriller film solely based on the frights and scares.
The first half of the film was incredibly dull, where many viewers reached for their phones, despite it being a thriller movie. The second half picked up the pace, but the ending felt quite rushed and left many lingering questions, such as what happened to Ezz El-Din? Did he go to prison after he killed Hanan?
The film also ended on a cliff-hanger; although the audience and the characters in the film were left to believe that the spirit has been eradicated after they solved the mystery of the murder, the last two minutes of the film showcased another type of spirit haunting the house.
Although the film’s main selling point is that it is the Arab’s world first ever film made with 3D technology—which will put 3D film in the region on the map—the 3D elements were not necessary in the film. As a thriller, it would have required more advanced technology to actually stress the bone-chilling element of thriller films.
However, the film’s score, which is composed by Egyptian music composer Hisham Kharma, served to intensify the rousing, spine-tingling elements of the film.
Though the film ended on a cliff-hanger, making the audience wonder if there will be a second part to the film. Despite only getting riveting in the second half, Youm 13 shone with a series of firsts, as the first 3D film in the Arab world and Egypt’s first truly bone-chilling thriller.
Despite noted room for improvement in its use of 3D technology, the movie may serve as a launch pad for the horror and thriller genre in Egypt and across the region.