However, writer-director Suparn Verma's film treads an altogether new path. It's far more subtle, even sophisticated.
Aatma is creepy enough to make you uncomfortable, but not as severe as the other horror films with the flying curtains, horrible faces, evil laugh and the inevitable possession. This one is of the soft-horror variety.
The focus remains steadfastly on the plot. A divorced single mum (Bipasha Basu) is in a dilemma. Her ex-husband (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) died in a car crash, and she hasn't been able to break the news to her five-year-old daughter.
But off late, the little girl is giggling in her room, talking to a chair that's rocking on its own, and having stories read to her. When the befuddled mother questions the child, she replies, as if learnt by rote, "It's a secret".
Who is doing this?
Then one day, the mysterious presence relays a message to the mother through the child. It's the child's dead father and he's come to "take her away".
It's enough to send a chill down any parent's spine. Admirably, Suparn doesn't resort to the horror cliches - well, at least not all of them. His storytelling is more subtle, letting the viewer slide to the edge of their seat worried sick about the little girl, rather than have a 'bhoot' do stunts and manipulate the horror element.
Yes, there are a couple of possession scenes, but again, very differently done.
The 'bhoot' in this case is in casual shirts and chinos. But he's still an evil one. Murders happen with abandon and CCTV cameras blur due to "magnetic interference". The cop (a character aching to be developed further), is hot on the trail, himself befuddled by the developments.
The back-story is equally horrifying – how a love marriage turns into an abusive one; how the husband gradually changes, disappearing for days, losing his job and friends in turns. And the flashback also serves in explaining just how horrific this back-from-the-grave ghost is.
And also delusional, for in this ghost's mind, he's doing no wrong. Interestingly, this character keeps saying, "Main bura aadmi nahin hoon" (I am not a bad man). Again, very real and reflective of some abusers who doggedly feel the world is wrong and they are right.
Now for the horror - it's sure to delight those who dislike extreme scares, and might disappoint hardcore horror junkies. The chills lie in the impossible situation of the characters more than the physical jolts and starts.
However, some of the scenes dip into the cheesy horror variety - like the one where the ghost appears on computer screens, the knives scene, and the hurriedly wrapped up ending.
But the cast does well. Bipasha manages to communicate the mother's predicament and has us empathising with the character's situation.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is superb - menacing without ever losing restraint. The little girl Doyel Dhawan is cute as a button and does well. The supporting cast is highly competent.
The film's strength also lies in its technical prowess. Cinematography by Sophie Winqvist has us soak in the beautiful visual aura of the film. Sound design, background score and production value are a treat.
As talky as it is terrifying, the film is worth a watch for a different take on horror.
Rating: 3 stars