Durgamati: The Myth review – haunted house goes under the Hammer | Film

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Censorship may have been an issue in the past, but it’s striking how few horror films Indian commercial cinema has produced relative to those from other genres. Things are changing, however, as younger, DVD-schooled creatives have taken up the challenge of splicing local traditions with spooky tropes, yielding such recent highlights as the sprightly chiller Stree and the darker-hued Tumbbad. (India’s submission for this year’s Oscars, the thunderous runaway-buffalo picture Jallikattu, could itself arguably be classified as horror – not least for its terrifying social commentary.)

The Blumhousification of Bollywood continues with this big, dumb haunted-house runaround, adapted by writer-director G Ashokfrom Bhaagamathie, his own regional hit of 2018 – though adaptation, in this case, has meant not much more than cranking the dial to 11. Initially, we’re in House of Cards country, watching corrupt politicos – and a Central Bureau of Investigation officer who makes Priti Patel look chummy – who are plotting to besmirch one of their few honest colleagues. The idea is to put a literal squeeze on his jailed PA Chanchal (Bhumi Pednekar) in the hope of extracting useful juice.

There’s no question what territory we’re in once these bad apples decide on the venue for their off-grid interrogation: the titular abandoned mansion, rumoured to be stalked by the vengeful ghost of a slain queen. “Her thirst for blood is insane!,” yelps the property’s wild-eyed, no-armed watchman, offering both a potential tagline for poster designers and a handy warning for everybody else. Abandon any expectation of subtlety, all ye who enter here.

The political melodrama, expanded upon in flashbacks that push the running time beyond two and a half hours, promises a far cannier night in than we get. The horror element mostly finds Ashok rolling out tropes tried, tested and tired out in US features: Sinister-like film reels, genre-standard power cuts, hefty soundtrack parps when inspiration really fails. Pared down or sent up, it might have held the interest. As it is, Ashok plays it deadeningly straight, generating some very ripe, sub-sub-Hammer scenes as our heroine is possessed by the restless queen’s spirit. In this role, the capable Pednekar is limited to bellowing while someone points a wind machine in her face, and it’s really not as if the film needs to get any louder.

• Durgamati: The Myth is on Amazon Prime Video from 11 December.

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Source: The Guardian
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