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Ghoul (TV Review)

Ghoul (TV Review)
7 10

Ghoul, TV Review, Horror, Ghoul TV Review, Netflix, Radhika Apte, Patrick Graham

SYNOPSIS: From the makers of Insidious, Get Out and Udta Punjab - Ghoul is a chilling series about a prisoner who arrives at a remote military interrogation centre and turns the tables on his interrogators, exposing their most shameful secrets. You can fight the demons of this world but what about the ones that aren't?

Ghoul, TV Review, Horror, Ghoul TV Review, Netflix, Radhika Apte, Patrick Graham

REVIEW: Netflix is no stranger to international programming. In fact, for every English language series they stream I would guarantee you will find series produced in Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian and many more languages. There are also quite a few Indian films and series on the service with the thriller Sacred Games the first Netflix original produced in the country. Now, we have the horror miniseries Ghoul debuting today in what is the first Indian film to be released in partnership between Netflix and Blumhouse Productions. Originally produced as a feature film, Netflix has broken it down into three 45 minute episodes which gives the haunting thriller the feel of a big screen production with the pacing of a small screen offering. The finished product may not be as outright scary as the marketing has made it out to be, but it is definitely a psychological mindf*ck. It also has the potential to open up North American audiences to both films from India, specifically horror.

Set in the near future where India exists in a police state due to constant terrorist attacks, martial law is in place which gives the National Protection Service near total control over the population. Free thought is virtually illegal which includes books, lectures, and other forms of media deemed damaging to the country at large. In some sequences, books of children's nursery rhymes are burned in an echo of FAHRENHEIT 451. There is also widespread distrust of Muslims whom are viewed as the core of the terrorist threat. Through all this, the NPS continues to demand that civilians report any dangerous activity and turn in their friends and neighbors. This results in recruit Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) to turn in her own father. While she knows this action will forever sever her relationship with him, Nida does so in the name of protecting her country. It also helps allay fears from her superiors since Nida herself is a Muslim.

Months later, Nida finds herself reassigned to a secret government holding facility by revered Dacunha (Manav Kaul), the head of the NPS. Nida's skills as an interrogator make her the ideal person to try and break the latest terrorist acquisiton: Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj). Saeed is the leader of the terrorists plaguing India and if he can be forced to confess, it could mean an end to the violence. Of course, Saeed is an all powerful and frightening individual who may be more than what he seems. What follows starts out like it will stay in the psychological horror realm with some truly disturbing moments before it devolves into a completely by the numbers fright flick. Complete with some out of left field CGI scares as well as jump scares seemingly lifted from countless other horror movies, Ghoul wastes what could have been a far superior film by switching gears halfway through. 

Drawing on the mythology of the Djinn, the prisoner turns the tables on his captor by revealing their deepest guilt, forcing the soldiers to turn on one another. In many ways, the film follows in the footsteps of claustrophobic horror movies like THE THING and ALIEN where a crew must stand against a supernatural foe. Unlike those films, Ghoul could have easily worked by sticking with the political and dystopian elements it started out with rather than turning something by the numbers. I will say the cast does a great job with the material, something difficult considering the script was written in English and translated to Hindi. Director Patrick Graham helmed Ghoul in English and was aided by translators to ensure the actors hit the right tone in their delivery of the dialogue. Star Radhika Apte stands out particularly as the most layered character who brings together the conversation on themes such as torture, faith, and service to your country.

Ghoul, TV Review, Horror, Ghoul TV Review, Netflix, Radhika Apte, Patrick Graham

Written and directed by Patrick Graham, currently one of the only Western filmmakers working in the Hindi film industry, Ghoul definitely looks and feels like an English-language production. If you are familiar with Indian film, there is often a distinct style to the direction that sets them apart from other film industries. Ghoul looks like it could have been made by a Hollywood studio and cast with all Indian performers. The material is dark and gritty and the visuals follow suit. There is definitely an attention to detail that helps make this movie claustrophobic and reminiscent of a haunted house tale. But, at the same time, it works as a dystopian military drama that illustrates the horrors of torture and terrorism. Blending the idea of psychological horror and the supernatural chills with a socio-political narrative is not new but it definitely subverts expectations here. It may not fully work as the filmmakers intended, but it is an admirable attempt.

At also makes one wonder why they split the film into three episodes at all. While each episode ends at a natural break, the total runtime of 136 minutes is not outside of a reasonable length for a feature film. Each episode also feels a bit thematically different than the one that came before it with the first focusing on the dystopian society and setting up the psychological torture elements, the second is primarily centered on the supernatural aspects of the tale and the final episode is in the vein of a survival horror movie. All together, Ghoul is a bit all over the place, but it does show promise for writer-director Patrick Graham and serves as a great introduction to Indian horror films. So, if you are looking for something scary and suprisingly nuanced this weekend, take a shot and binge Ghoul.

Ghoul premieres August 24th on Netflix.

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