Tag Archives: Patrick Graham

TV Review: Ghoul (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ghoul on Netflix

Ghoul pulls no punches in its depiction of the dangers of state-sanctioned religious intolerance. The show’s monsters are scary, but not as terrifying as the vision of the future presented by writer-director Patrick Graham.

The miniseries comprises three episodes, each with a runtime between 40-45 minutes (excluding closing credits). In all, Ghoul is about as long as a feature film. I appreciated the built-in breaks, which occur at logical points in the plot. This is a perfect kind of storytelling format for a streaming video platform, and I won’t be surprised to see it become more common as filmmakers adapt to changing audience viewing habits.

Graham keeps the scares to a minimum in the first episode: “Out of the Smokeless Fire,” establishing a world where every day is a nightmare for those on the wrong side of new societal divisions. A fascist Indian government cracks down on homegrown terrorism by outlawing certain religious texts and practices, burning books and whisking away citizens believed to harbor anti-nationalist sentiments for “re-education.” The only people targeted in crackdowns are Muslims, although the show doesn’t specifically identify the government as Hindu nationalist.

Naive patriotism inspires Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) to enlist in the military, despite being the daughter of an Islamic scholar (played by S.M. Zaheer). She’s convinced that the government’s harsh tactics truly are about national security and not religious oppression, as her father believes — so much so that she turns in her own father for re-education. Soon after, she’s posted at a secret government prison to aid the interrogation of notorious terrorist Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj), who is captured in the show’s opening, half-dead and surrounded by the corpses of his followers. But why would the military assign Nida, a junior interrogator, to such a high-profile case?

The last two episodes draw from any number of horror films in which the characters are trapped in a remote location with a monster, their terror turning them against one another when their survival depends on them working together. Few of the soldiers and prisoners get any meaningful character development other than Colonel Sunil Dacunha (Manav Kaul), whose idea it was to bring Nida in, and Lieutenant Laxmi Das (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee), Dacunha’s skeptical second-in-command.

Although the relative anonymity of the other soldiers signals their expendability, it also highlight’s the shows message that any agent of a fascist government is liable for its crimes. Not every soldier in Dacunha’s prison personally tortured prisoners, but all of them knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The jail’s cremation room is a stark visualization of the parallels to Nazism present throughout Graham’s screenplay.

When Ghoul‘s namesake creature finally appears, the story becomes quite scary, playing on the fears of those within the prison. Several of the soldiers, including Dacunha, are haunted by the way engaging in torture has warped their sense of morality — not enough to stop torturing people, unfortunately — allowing the monster to play on their guilt. The scares in Ghoul are more psychological than surprise driven, and there’s a considerable amount of blood.

Nida is plagued by her own guilt, and she has no allies in her new surroundings. Apte is compelling in the lead role, showing both Nida’s grit and vulnerability. Bravely, the series doesn’t downplay her commitment to the totalitarian government. She’s willing to follow orders until the moment she’s absolutely convinced that she’s been duped. Nor does Ghoul try to make Dacunha more sympathetic than he should be. Kaul depicts Dacunha as conflicted, but unquestionably a bad person. Ghoul knows which way its moral compass points, and it’s not afraid to show it.

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Movie Review: Trapped (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Trapped infuses social commentary into a gripping survival drama about a man locked inside a high-rise apartment. Actor Rajkummar Rao is an ideal leading man for this film.

Rao plays Shaurya, a shy office worker. The film opens with shots of Shaurya at his desk as audio plays of his initial awkward phone calls to his pretty coworker, Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa). She finally agrees to dinner with Shaurya, only to tell him that she’s getting married in two months. Still, they date and fall in love to the song “Hai Tu” as the opening credits roll, an effective way to quickly encourage our fondness for the couple.

Noorie tries to break up with Shaurya, despite her feelings for him. Even if they eloped, they can’t live in Shaurya’s one-bedroom bachelor pad with his five roommates. Shaurya promises to find them an apartment before she has to leave for her wedding in two days’ time, an outrageous proposition on his limited budget.

Shaurya meets a broker (played by Yogendra Vikram Singh) who makes him an offer that is clearly too good to be true — a spacious apartment in a brand new high-rise for exactly the amount Shaurya says he can afford, and he can move in immediately. In his haste, Shaurya ignores obvious red flags, such as the fact that literally no one else lives in the 35-story building.

After a night in the apartment, Shaurya wakes to find his phone battery drained thanks to the building’s spotty electrical service. He gets just enough of a charge to receive a frantic call from Noorie, about to depart for her wedding. Shaurya leaves, ducks back in the apartment to grab his phone, only to have the wind slam the door shut, his keys dangling from the lock outside and trapping him within.

Thus begins Shaurya’s nightmare, his panic over being unable to reach Noorie giving way to the greater horror that he’s stuck, and no one knows where he is. He left his bachelor pad with the announcement that he was going to his parents’ place, not that his stoned roommates even noticed what with their favorite nature show host Hawk McNab (Patrick Graham) on the tube.

Hawk appears to Shaurya in a hallucination at one point, and the visit by the hyper-competent outdoorsman emphasizes how utterly ordinary Shaurya is in comparison. Unlike other survivor film protagonists, he has no special skills. Mark Watney may be millions of miles away in The Martian, but he’s still an astronaut. Nancy can treat her shark bite in The Shallows because she’s a med student. Shaurya is just a guy with one packet of cookies and an extra pair of underwear.

This allows the audience to more fully step into Shaurya’s shoes. His desperate escape attempts are almost frustrating for their lack of cleverness, but only because we’ve been trained to expect survival movie heroes who are smarter than we are. The fact that Shaurya lasts long enough to provide material for a feature-length film is testimony to will to live, which may be the most important survival skill after all.

Rao is perfect as an everyday man put in an impossible situation. His performance is balanced, with just a few fits of hysteria to punctuate the otherwise numbing boredom of the situation. Rao’s best moments are when yet another of Shaurya’s plans fails, and he simply sits there with tears welling in his eyes but never falling. He’s too defeated to even cry.

Trapped provides a fitting metaphor for a number of modern conditions: capitalism; the imbalance of the renter-landlord relationship; middle class aspirations; arranged marriage. Shaurya winds up stuck in a life-or-death situation, and for what? Eloping with Noorie would raise a whole host of new problems. Their happy-ever-after would still see them stuck in an endless capitalist loop, with Shaurya struggling to provide for Noorie on the insufficient income from his boring office job just so that their kids could grow up to do the same thing. Is that enough? Maybe we’re all trapped.

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