★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Another fun bit of horror straight out of Incredible !ndia.
Directed by Patrick Graham.
Hello, India! We meet again.
How many projects does it take to create a renaissance? With Ghoul streaming from Netflix in August and Tumbbad (2018) quickly following with an October release, things are getting pretty exciting in India!
Ghoul was Netflix’s first horror series from India and their second collaboration with Phantom Films. Originally, it was going to be a regular ol’ movie, but after talks with Netflix and co-producer Blumhouse Productions everyone decided that a three-part miniseries would be a better format. Not that it makes a big difference. Speaking from experience, there’s no way you could sit down to watch the first episode without gobbling up the next two as quickly as possible.
The show focuses on Nida Rahim [Radhika Apte; Parched (2015)], a rather naive and dangerously idealistic young woman who’s training to become an expert in “enhanced interrogation”. A skill that’s being used all too frequently by the Indian government in this dystopian vision of the near future.
She’s assigned to a classified, highly secret detention center, Meghdoot 31, where political dissidents and violent terrorists alike are held, tortured for information, and supposedly “rehabilitated”. On the night of her arrival, the most wanted criminal mastermind in the country, Ali Saeed Al Yacoub [Mahesh Balraj; Parched (2015)], is being transferred to Meghdoot 31 for interrogation and the facility’s commanding officer, Colonel Sunil Dacunha [Manav Kaul; Wazir (2016)], assigns Nida to the primary interrogation crew.
Little do the soldiers know, there’s more to Ali Saeed than meets the eye and things quickly spiral out of control into confusion, paranoia, murder, and gore.
In typical Blumhouse cost-cutting fashion, Ghoul takes place almost entirely within the walls of the bunker-like Meghdoot 31 facility. While this definitely helps create an oppressive sense of claustrophobia, it does lead to a bit of monotony in the sets. There’s only so much you can do to make concrete walls and floors look interesting. On the other hand, since there’s not a ton going on set-wise, it lets you focus on the acting! How’s that for a silver lining?
Focussing on the acting isn’t the worst thing you could do, either. Radhika Apte shines as the eager cadet anxious to help make the world a better place. And, though not much of a talker, Mahesh Balraj did a great job as the creepy and mysterious Al Saeed. While I found Manav Kaul’s performance as the Colonel somewhat hit or miss, his second in command, Major Laxmi Das [Ratnabali Bhattacharjee; Sold (2016)], was more than able to pick up the slack.
Overall, the direction and camera work was spot on. Occasionally, there would be a small hiccup where the director’s inexperience showed through — most glaringly towards the end Nida’s nightmare scene where I truly had no idea what I was looking at due to the wonky perspective — but, aside from that one instance, nothing bad enough to yank you out of the narrative.
Dialog-wise, the filmmakers did a great job. Director Patrick Graham is rightfully credited as the primary scribe given that he came up with the story and penned the original script. However, Kartik Krishnan and Sarang Sathaye helped flesh out the dialog to give everything a more natural, fluid feel. It’s this type of cooperative effort that helped put a nice polish on the finished product.
We can only hope to see more of this in the future. The collaboration of production teams that brought Ghoul to life — Phantom Films, Blumhouse Productions, and Ivanhoe Pictures — began their partnership back in 2014. Their goal was to create three brand new local language horror films in India. Ghoul is the first project to be released. Unfortunately, in October 2018, Phantom Films announced that they were dissolving the company. This may point to an uncertain fate for the two as of yet unreleased projects.
I’d call Ghoul another solid entry in what I’m hoping will turn out to be the start of a wildly creative renaissance for Indian horror. I can’t say Ghoul stands in the same company as the fantastic Tumbbad (2018), but it’s got a great story, its pacing rolls right along, and it’s thoroughly entertaining.
Keep up the good work, India!