The graphics that play over the end credits of Ayman Jamal and Khurram H. Alavi’s Bilal simulate acrylic paint washes in lush oranges and reds. Throughout the rest of this animated film, only one terrifying image of a horned monster made of sand and fire matches that level of visual inventiveness. And that towering figure only appears in one nightmarish fantasy sequence. Rubbery-fleshed characters — the softbodied ones usually favored by video game designers — populate the nightmarish daytime scenes. Set a thousand years ago in a desert city, Bilal (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and his sister are kidnapped as children and grow up as slaves.
Their masters are sadistic despots who variously whip, beat, and chain Bilal to put him in his place. At one point, they tie him down in a public square and place a boulder on top of his body, pressing down on it to increase the pain. When a kind man buys and then releases him from his servitude, psychological punishments replace the physical ones. In order to mount an insurrection against his former masters, Bilal must leave his beloved sister behind. Bilal: A New Breed of Hero piles on the emotional distress relentlessly. Sensitive, impressionable children should, in equal parts, be bored by the slack pacing, sense the tendentious spiritual teachings, and leave the theater disturbed by all the violence.
Opens Friday at the AMC Van Ness 14.