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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Review: Ghost Stories

Director: Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar
Screenplay: Dibakar Banerjee, Isha Luthra, Ensia Mirza, and Avinash Sampath
Year: 2020

When one thinks about Asian horror, countries such as Japan and Korea are the ones that come to mind, or maybe even the Philippines after “Eerie” got distributed in Netflix, but it is not common to think of India. The curious thing is that India has a long list of titles in the horror genre, but not all that often they get distributed to other countries. Streaming platforms are more and more active in having diversity in their content, which opens up opportunities to see what is currently being done in the horror genre in other countries, as was the case of “Eerie” and which is now the case of “Ghost Stories”.

“Ghost Stories” is an anthology of four horror short films directed by four different directors. Based in India, each short film deals with a different topic, such as ghosts, supernatural forces, and cannibalism, with exposition to topics of that culture. “Ghost Stories” reunites four of the most renowned directors in India in an anthology that exposes the state of horror cinema in that country.

The first of these short films, directed by Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), is based in a young nurse, who goes to take care of an old lady with dementia, who should have been taken care of by her grandson, but contrary to what the old lady asserts, there are no signs of him being around. This first short relies on creating a disturbing atmosphere and playing with the perception of the viewer about if what’s going on is something supernatural or a product of the dementia of the old lady. The ending is an unexpected and surprising one and in general, is a good beginning to catch the attention of the viewer.

The second short movie deals with the topic of motherhood with a nightmarish visual quality. The creativity of director Anurag Kashyap (“Gangs of Wasseypur”) is its greater virtue, accompanied by a visual compartment of desaturated colors that both enhances its artistic value, as well as it gloomy sense, although hindered by weak interpretations. Topics such as motherhood and trauma are the basis of the plot, but the real message lies somewhere underneath the artistic element and bloody ending.

Dibakar Banerjee (“Shanghai”) oversees the third short film, that being the most visually limited by questionable costumes, is the most fun. Cannibalism takes the center stage as the topic of this short where gore and tension dominate, although it ends up being campy and it seems like it was unintentional. The situations the protagonists face are tense and give way to scenes of repulsive violence and offers an ending that leaves you guessing about the events shown. 

The last short film, by the hand of Karan Johar (“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”) combines arranged marriages, part of the Indian culture, with the supernatural and is the least enjoyable of the bunch. A recently married young woman notices that her husband continues to talk with his dead grandmother, who still has a room in his house, where the couple now lives. The plot is kept ambiguous enough to keep the viewer doubting about if what’s going on is real or not, but the plot development lacks interest.

In general, “Ghost Stories” is an interesting addition to the horror movie catalog on Netflix, which continues to diversify. Of the four shorts, the first three are worth watching, only the last one being unconvincing, a good percentage that justifies the 144 minutes runtime. “Ghost Stories” offers an interesting vision about the state of horror in a country in which we are not used to seeing this sort of movies, combined with an abundant cultural influence from the country and many crows, without creating many expectations about a promising future for horror cinema in India.

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