This year has been scary, tricking us...Now treat yourself to the scariest of films worthy of Halloween that is celebrated all over the world. It’s All Souls Day where the families come together to celebrate, and pray to their ancestors.
No matter where you are (I’m hoping you are safe at home!) or how and when you celebrate your ancestors, it is always a good time to watch movies that make you jump out of your skin, and haunt you, like forever…
Everyone has a list of movies that give you shivers down their spine. I watch so many horror movies that I rarely get disturbed. But, there are a few that I will watch with the lights switched on! Among them is the Japanese film Ringu (most people have seen the tapered down English version of the film The Ring), which had the scary woman crawl out of the TV set. The other Japanese movie that reaches out to my heart and dips it in fear is The Grudge.
What is it about homes that hold a grudge that makes them so fascinating? The film His House cleverly blends a worldwide concern of Immigration with horror and manages to humanise everything. My heart went out to the couple Bol and Rial, in the film - who have escaped the horrors of war - to find refuge in a house already occupied by evil. You understand right away her awe, "Is this whole house ours?" because we know they’ve spent hours cramped inside a boat to make their great escape.
You know that their marriage is rather tenuous and evil can tear it apart quite easily. But, they have so much to lose if they give up the house. And if ever, you’ve felt this feeling - that your house is your haven - then you will understand why they will not allow their future to slip into the cracks and die.
Of course, the governments are ultimately evil. They put hopeful immigrants and asylum seekers in detention center cages where they are treated no better than animals, Most are sent back to war and gang ruled home states where their deaths are guaranteed. If you were in their shoes, what would you do?
At the same time as His Home, Netflix releases Kaali Khuhi (The Black Well) which is a scary little tale made in India. If you have watched any horror film, you will realise that filmmakers often rely on tropes to tell the story of whatever evil they want to tell. This film is set in Punjab and relies on Shabana Azmi, a little girl, her mother and loads of overacting and unexplained shadows and reflections of ghosts. Wait. What?
Aren’t ghosts supposed to be formless. So, it’s these village crones who kill girl babies and the whole village then is doomed to be grey and enveloped by sudden mists. Obviously they throw the babies to die in a well and that acts as a trap. I must admit, the constant jump cuts and creepy music that suddenly ends in a thud or a complete silence seem to be such a waste of time.
The kids in The Haunting of Bly Manor (also on Netflix) are far scarier. Shabana Azmi is creditable, but someone please explain to me how are they tackling Patriarchy by showing us a caricature of patriarchy in the form of a drunk Darshan (father of the little girl) who first insists on leaving the town to go visit his ill mother, does not stop his mother from saying rude things to his wife, then insists on staying on after the mother dies...Don’t ask!
Be grateful to whoever designed the Netflix site and had the smarts to add the 10 second forward button. I was so thankful that I could skip the needless fog scenes.
After having watched the brilliantly scary Tumbbad (available on Amazon Prime Video) which takes on greed as the evil character in the film, this black well falls flat on a story that is as straightforward as the Eyre Highway in Australia (90 miles of straight road). And, unlike Tumbbad, this film is plain predictable and boring.
What has not been boring is my time during the pandemic. A lot of people go stir crazy alone, and The Shining (on Netflix) is one of the best from Stephen King. As someone said, it feels like the end of the world. And, as the OTT gods will tell you, "They have a show or two to help you imagine it!"
There is The Society which shows how high schoolers behave when power comes into their hands, To The Lake shows you how collaboration and cooperation can help you battle a deadly disease, but after watching a boring scary film, I was ready to tackle something fun and yet about a post-apocalyptic world.
Daybreak on Netflix has been listed as a Teen TV show. But, it offers so much more. As a parent, I found insights in the world of young adults who are forced into becoming leaders and heroes. Knowing how most young people today would choose to shut themselves in their rooms and not deal with anything (unless it was food), I found myself binge-watching this show. Imagine if all adults had perished and seemingly dumb kids discovered true heroes among their kind.
At first, the breaking of the fourth wall was a little annoying. Josh talking to the camera was odd, but as soon as the story moves ahead, we realise that he’s out searching for his girl, and how he has to perhaps battle the jocks and the cheerleaders (aah yes, the high school tropes!) to figure out where she is, we are hooked.
You will smile at the mutant animals and the lengths one kid goes to defend the mall from other kids. You will begin to like the drive the kids have in doing everything they do.
The story uses the strengths of everyone in the ragged band of kids who don’t belong to the gangs and bring out the best. The story is so much fun that I have finished a humongous amount of popcorn and ice cream when watching this show.
It made me cry when I realised how like us, kids today are also searching for a group where they feel like they belong, and how I too have friendships that have strengthened by adversity I have faced in my life. Plus, Daybreak has the best feminist lines delivered by heroine that I have seen in any show. And, if you are surrounded by people who often tell you that they know what’s best for you, then encourage them to watch this show.
The kids in the show have survival instincts that I envy. Their relationships with one another is a thing of beauty. I watched the end credits roll and thought to myself: It’s the grown ups who f*** up the world, the kids are alright. By force of habit, I drop a tenner into the curse jar, and idly look at what friends across the world are watching.
Just remember, the premise of a scary film should be simple. And it looks like someone made a wonderful scary film about hair from India on wigs! Bad Hair is not just a common and oft heard complaint during this pandemic, it happens to be a scary film playing on Hulu. More than that, there are other concerns that have kept me from enjoying simple pleasures offered by the innocuous fruit. Remember when you sat with other kids in balconies and had a seed spitting contest?
I still remember how we laughed at a neighborhood aunty, who was sprayed by these seeds. ‘If you swallow a seed, you’ll have a watermelon tree growing out of your tummies.’ And that, dear folk, has been a curse that will perhaps always remain the scariest story ever told.
Manisha Lakhe Is A Poet, Film Critic, Traveller, Founder Of Caferati — An Online Writer’s Forum, Hosts Mumbai’s Oldest Open Mic, And Teaches Advertising, Films And Communication.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.