31 Days of Hallowe’en 2021, Day 12: Kriya [2020]

source: imdb

I don’t know what to say about this Indian horror movie other than I had high hopes for it. I have heritage from there and I grew up with lots of Indian movies being played in my household but, being a lifelong goth (since I created a vampire version of Hide and Seek when I was around 6), I had always been curious about what the subcontinent had to offer in that genre.

Unfortunately, I was repeatedly disappointed by mainstream Indian horror. It was inevitably adaptations of remakes of foreign movies or themselves, and usually played for family laughs rather than true terror. The stuff of Casper. Where was the real horror?

With mixed results, I tried picking movies that seemed outside the norm like Pakistan’s noble attempt at a zombie grime-fest Zibakhana [Hell’s Ground], or India’s dreamy but meandering No Smoking, an adaptation of the Stephen King short story Quitters, Inc.. (Note: Don’t @me because I haven’t seen either Zindalaash or Tumbbad yet. I’m saving those.) But each time I was disappointed. I can’t seem to find anything in the middle of the spectrum of ‘wacky and safe’ and ‘borderline experimental’. I feel close to the issue from an awkward sense of ethnic pride. Where are the Indian Ari Asters? The Pakistani Robert Eggers? Iran has both Ana Lily Armipour and Marjane Satrapi. Come on, guys; get a movie on.

So it was disappointing, but not surprising, that Kriya turned out to be a bit of a mess. *sighs into my seviya*

Kriya starts off in one of the last places I’d expect an Indian film to be: in a nightclub. It’s a heady, neon-strobe-lit scene that, at over 5 minutes, goes on slightly too long as it’s hard to make out what’s happening but Sitara (Navjot Randhawa) locks eyes with DJ Neel (Noble Luke) and, after making out in the car, she suggests drive to her place to have sex.

Once they get there, though, they see that Sitara’s father is lying on the floor, dying, and the entire family is about to perform last rites. But, because Hindu tradition states that only the eldest son can perform them and Sitara only has her mother Tara (Avantika Akerkar) and younger sister Sara (Kanak Bhardwaj) the family implore Neel to stay and do it for them. Awkward.

This is a wonderfully creepy set-up with the potential for some dark humour. But it never gets there. The film is clearly trying to scream something about the patriarchy with numerous in-your-face lines about women knowing their place, and about the lengths to which some family members will go to uphold that structure. It was heading somewhere game-changing.

But it loses its way via its own slow pacing and painfully, cringingly delivered English lines (I know it’s common on-screen and IRL for us to switch between languages but if your cast can’t deliver it, stop, it’s worse than a school play). The full-frontal nudity, while equitable is out of place. The performances are far better when the actors revert to Hindi. The lighting, the set – despite its meagre <$250k budget, it pulls off a striking, memorable, uniquely Indian occult vibe. There is some nightmarish imagery, but it’s orphaned from purpose because of how randomly it’s inserted into the film. None of it is cohesive except for the bookend scenes, the style of which I wish we’d had more of.

Perhaps only for genre fans curious to see what an off-kilter Indian horror could look like.

Score: 🎃🎃

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