The film takes its time to set the mood. You see Neil’s laidback schedule as he shoots, goes to the local restaurant for breakfast, gives a missed call to his girlfriend instead of leaving a message, and reminisces their fallen romance.
Producer-director duo Devaki Singh and Luke Kenny keep the pace measured, a sign of assured storytelling.
And then one day, while clicking pictures, Neil notices a rash of sorts. Something seems to have bitten him. The rash on his hand grows worse over the days, enveloping the entire hand. His local caretaker who brings him lunch sometimes is surprised at the rash spreading and promises to bring him medicine from the main city.
Then one night, Neil wakes up to see a gory sight. And over the next few days, as the wound gets worse, so does his state. Normal food doesn’t interest him anymore and he begins to make strange noises. And then one day, he bends down and starts eating ants, and the next day a lizard.
As you may know from countless Hollywood films, a zombie is the ‘living dead’ being that eats people. The undead corpse as they say.
The most interesting thing about the film is the slow, torturous transformation of Neil into the zombie. We see him deteriorate over days, as he graduates from eating small animals, to big ones, and finally kills his first human victim.
The evil smile on his face when his caretaker talks of an unborn baby is frightening, as is his helplessness over his own situation.
The film is not scary, in the sense there is no black magic or mumbo-jumbo here. The scares are in watching a perfectly likeable person turn into a bloodthirsty monster without his will, and what ensues after. The torturous transformation has you sympathizing and fearing the zombie at once. The film is gory and you have scenes like the zombie pulling out the heart of a person and chomping on it.
The second half gets repetitive with the killing rampage and the finale is too abruptly wrapped up, informing that the sequel will be released next year.
But overall the film is entertaining as well. The zombie film is a new genre in Hindi cinema and it’s time we had a fresh inclusion in our spirits-obsessed horror film scene.
Luke Kenny nails the tough role and is genuinely vulnerable and frightening in turns. The film is worth a watch just to savour his performance. Kirti Kulhari (Shaitan) is good as the girlfriend.
Technical specs are impressive. Cinematographer Murzy Pagdiwala captures the striking locales in all their haunting beauty. The music is top-notch and the picturization of the rustic song (it’s a village party scene) is simply superb. Ritu Janjjani’s prosthetic make-up is superb— effective without going over-the-top.
The film sets the foreboding mood ever so gradually, and it’s a treat to see the horror unfold in an unhurried pace. On the other hand, the film needed more meat (pun unintended) to avoid one scene looking like a variant of the other. The film also needed to tell us ‘what’ exactly happened to Neil— what bit him, why is there a photo of him as a child with a skull, and why this is happening to him.
It’s all right that the film left where the sequel is to take over, but this one needed to be more holistically rounded off as well.
Still, for the unconventional horror, Kenny’s Zombie act and the music, the film is worth a watch.
Rating: Three stars