Amavas Review: A horror film that's only jumps, no scares
Bhusan Patel's film makes for an agonizing watch. The acting is gorier than the plot, and the writing paler than the faces
To enter a haunted house in the brightest fur coat is to send out the wrong message. Nobody likes their privacy invaded by gaudy affluence, let alone ghosts in the English countryside. The heroine of Amavas, Ahana (played by Nargis Fakhri), goes a step further: she laughingly unknots the religious token hanging off the front door, chiding the comical caretaker for not using a lock instead. A door squeaks open, and you know evil forces are afoot. Once again.
This is a genre that won’t die — right, that’s the point. Directed by Bhusan Patel, the man behind such classics as 1920: Evil Returns, Ragini MMS 2 and Alone, here’s a film refurbishing old creeps just for the sake of it, with no added ambition or intent attached: floorboards creak, shadows float, hands emerge from the corners of the frame. This utter lack of reinvention is highlighted in the laziest possible ways, signalling a disinterest that verges on defiance (the wronged female soul in the central plot is called ‘Maya’, for god’s sake). I assume there’s still a market for all this. How else can you justify the production costs? Is there a secret tax rebate London exclusively hands out to Indian horror flicks, a repayment for the real dreads of colonialism? What if?
Director: Bhusan Patel
Cast: Nargis Fakhri, Sachiin Joshi, Ali Asgar
There’s one new addition though: lead actor (and producer) Sachiin Joshi. This guy has cracked it. Unlike his predecessors — Dino Morea, Rajneesh Duggal, Mimoh Chakraborty, and Karan Kundra, to name a few — Joshi has figured out how to play the quintessential horror hero with conviction: He just doesn’t budge. The camera swerves around him in smartly framed mid-shots (he looks like a morose, miniature Madhavan in wider ones), but Joshi keeps a straight face and remains transfixed at one spot, even when he's looking at a severed head on the floor. This makes him the perfect client for a disgruntled focus-puller, though it also makes him a lousy lover.
The film begins with Joshi’s character, Karan Ajmera — a charming Indian aristocrat raised in London — wanting to jet off to Paris for the weekend, a sensible prospect that’s brutally turned down by his would-be wife, Ahana. “Paris is so cliché,” she beseeches, and Karan’s mother weighs in. This results in the couple, against Karan’s will, driving down to a misty mansion in the middle of hicksville, where familiar horrors ensue. (Major spoiler: all of it leads back to a charred doll).
Nargis, understandably out of touch with her Hindi, chews up her lines with an unplaceable accent. Still, it somehow goes with her character: a fine, (presumably) half-Brit lady who initially scoffs at the ideas of ‘God’ and ‘Ghosts’, but finds herself increasingly rattled by an ominous presence, and ends up draping an evil entity in shimmering saffron silk. Ali Asgar keeps things jolly as the monkey-capped caretaker with Wi-Fi dots on his head, and Mona Singh — playing a therapist with an Om-tattoo on her arm — tries hard not to laugh at the going-ons.
To be honest, I was mildly surprised by Amavas presenting itself as a standalone film, removed from the sequel-y tentacles of previous franchises. It looks like a marketing miss, and also a fraud. Considering how flagrantly Amavas borrows from the entirety of pop-culture — the main set-up from Raaz, the ludicrous climactic showdown from Venom, and one of its ancillary twists from Scooby Doo — I can’t believe anyone can claim authorship over this work. As horror movies go, this film has a higher jump-count than any of its Hollywood counterparts, but none as effective or memorable.
Patel’s film makes for an agonising watch, worsened by its two-hour-plus runtime. The acting is gorier than the plot, and the writing paler than the faces. You could sympathise with the lead character getting migraine attacks. I’ll remember Amavas as a professional hazard of my chosen career. It’s a film about the unseen I wish I could unsee.