REAL ILLUSION FILMS (2020)
Director: Sidharth Srinivisan
Starring: Avantika Akerkar, Kanak Bhardwaj, Sudhanva Deshpande, Noble Luke, Anuradha Majumdar, Navjot Randhawa
Fantasia Festival 2020 Selection
Indian horror Kriya begins at a nightclub complete with pulsing dance music, colourful strobe lighting and a DJ being seduced by a beautiful partygoer. At this point, in my mind I was forming where the narrative would take me next – a drugged up sacrifice? A creepy DJ luring nightly victims? Maybe simply just murder on the dance floor. What I didn’t envisage was where Kriya went next and the issues it brought to the forefront of its story.
Sidharth Srinivasan describes the movie as “a genre-driven arthouse film, which sets out to subvert Hindu ritual tradition, exposing its debasement of women” and he isn’t wrong. It became clear pretty early on that Srinivasan was playing fast and loose with tradition – even to someone not clued up on the details and particulars of the rituals – whilst also pointedly giving each female character defining traits and backstories whilst allowing the audience to witness their treatment from others within the movie and clearly deduce that it’s wrong. The aforementioned DJ, Neel (Luke), meets Sitara (Randbawa) and is taken back to her abode – a very stately looking mansion – only to find her father dying and the family beginning a ‘magic’ ritual on his prone corpse. What happens next is a psychedelic, hallucinatory journey as familial truths and sufferings are revealed and Neel too must face his own tragic past if he is to make it out of the terrifying situation he has found himself in. I can already see the A24 comparisons being touted so I’ll mention it right away. However, Srinivasan has crafted a compelling insight into the treatment of women wrapped in a ritualistic spiralling nightmare that feels unique, it feels important. It’s not without its stumbles, Kriya certainly isn’t perfect – at times the plot becomes slightly muddled, those not giving their full attention will find themselves confused very quickly and some of the dialogue feels stilted (though this could be a issue in translation – but there is a lot to like about this. The singular location works well in terms of the physical setting and the atmospheric surroundings are pivotal in helping to create the overall tone of Kriya. The good lead performances from Luke and Randbawa sit alongside very good supporting roles from Avantika Akerkar as Tara Devi (the seemingly nefarious mother) and Kanak Bhardwaj as Sara, the younger sister of Sitara. Srinivasan also eschews the need for jump scares throughout and instead opts for pure atmosphere and a sense of ambiguity that permeates much of the movie – a move which benefits Kriya massively. This isn’t a vanilla contemporary horror packed with deafening musical cues accompanying telegraphed jumpscares, instead it leans on the fears, troubles and anxieties of the characters and the subversion of Hindu tradition and Indian families to create a far more uncomfortable and eye-opening movie with a very personal edge.
By the conclusion, the point Srinivisan is attempting to get across becomes very clear and, overall, Kriya is an impressive slice of hallucinatory horror.
August 27th 2020