Friday, July 17, 2020

The House Next Door [dir. Milind Rau]

The House Next Door aka Aval aka Gruham got a decent review from my favorite critic Baradwaj Rangan. In retrospect, I wonder if the fact that he was pally with the director and lead actor led to a softening of his otherwise sharp critical reflexes. Rangan made a lot of the fact that the film is a "pure" horror, not mixed with other potboiler elements. But apart from the fact that there are no song elements and comedy tracks, it's not particularly different from the standard Vikram Bhatt horror feature.

Siddharth and Andrea Jeremiah are a very-much-in-love married couple who set up home in a picturesque remote hillside (which must mean a really long work commute for the husband who works in a state-of-the-art hospital doing surgical "deep brain stimulation" procedures). They get a new set of neighbors in Atul Kulkarni and his family which includes his second wife and one daughter from each marriage. The elder daughter, who is infatuated with Sid (causing justifiable irritation in his wife, especially since Sid doesn't seem to be bothered to even politely tell the kid to back off) starts to show weird behavior and there's talk about evil spirits asking them to leave the house. Since she's a depressed adolescent with step-mum issues (and of course reads horror books) they first try to look for a conventional reason and after a pseudo-exorcism (Prakash Belawadi, pleasantly restrained) goes spectacularly wrong, they delve into the history of the house (hinted at in the prologue). More stereotype horror movie wankery till the end.

THND goes through a battery of tired horror movie stereotypes - stuff that goes bump, someone walking past in the mirror, ghostly face at the window, levitating furniture and stuff that gets hurled around. There's little here that's fresh or, like with the entertaining first installment of The Conjuring, done with enough energy to transcend the cliche. The stray good scene, like when Sid must try to ignore visions of ghosts while he's trying to do a delicate brain procedure, provides too little relief. The screenplay is predictable to a fault and while the camera captures some interesting colored lighting that harks back to Dario Argento's Suspiria, the imagery (CG or otherwise) to depict the ghosts is unimaginative. On the whole this Grudge is a drudge.

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