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Movie Review: Amazon Prime’s Evil Eye Is More Drama, Less Horror

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Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s latest production stint Evil Eye is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Starring Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani, the film is based on an audio play by Madhuri Shekar. Evil Eye is directed by the Indian-American twin brothers Elan and Rajeev Dassani and is part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse series which is a line-up of films from the Amazon Studios that will premiere directly on its streaming service this month.

Predicated on a mother-daughter bond that stretches authentically over two continents, Evil Eye was promoted as a horror film, although the premise of it builds up more like a supernatural thriller, at times even bordering on emotional melodrama. There’s nothing genuinely chilling about it, rather the film had all the potential to become worthy of one hell of a trigger warning for abuse. Instead, it spins out this very idea into half-baked horror tropes.

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The Plot

The story revolves around the mother-daughter duo Usha (Sarita Choudhury) and Pallavi (Sunita Mani) who, as we are told, are situated in two different continents. Usha lives in New Delhi with her husband while their daughter Pallavi is an aspiring novelist who chose to stay back at the US after her parents moved back to India. As yet another Sima Taparia-inspired mother (cinema sure seems to be full of it these days), Usha tries to set her daughter up with different boys in an attempt to get her married soon. While waiting to meet one of her prospective matches, Pallavi meets Sandeep (Omar Maskati), an unusually perceptive stranger waiting in the same café as her. Soon romance blooms, but as Pallavi opens up to her mother about her relationship, Usha starts to sense doom.

The catch here is that Usha, who is deeply superstitious as a person, has always been consumed by the belief that Pallavi is cursed, one that Usha has since then tried to slave off with an eponymous evil eye bracelet and helicopter parenting. In the past, Usha had an abusive boyfriend, who nearly killed her before he died himself. Pallavi is unaware of her mother’s trauma, but Usha’s suspicions are aroused when she spots familiar patterns in Sandeep’s behaviour: she soon starts to belive that Sandeep is a reincarnation of her abusive boyfriend from three decades before. As her stress for her daughter skyrockets, Usha also starts to experience debilitating migraines and makes excuses to avoid leaving the house. But is Usha merely succumbing to paranoia, or is there any truth in her beliefs that her daughter is cursed?

What Goes Wrong?

The first two acts establish the dramatic stakes of the film pretty well: there is an exploration of Pallavi’s torn-between-two-cultures dilemma and her close, complicated relationship with her mother. The characters are intricately developed before psycho stalkers and physical manifestations of existential dread are thrown into the mixture. But soon the pace becomes uneven, and in the absence of any significant sub-plot, the latter part of the film never manages to ratchet up enough tension to make it actually thrilling. Even Usha’s backstory, told to us in grainy flashbacks, aren’t quite effective. They instead leave behind bigger questions for the audience: how did the earlier relationship pan out? Are Usha’s migraines a remanent of her trauma or some wound she suffered while being abused? What led her to turn towards astrology and superstitious beliefs? Was it some sort of a coping mechanism gone wrong? The film, sadly never answers any of them.

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There’s no doubt that both Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani are brilliant actors, they really are. Whenever the script wavers, they elevate it, selling every moment with conviction.

The plot midway starts to rely on convenience and in the absence of any sustained tension or outright fear, the real flavour of this film draws itself from the mother/daughter dynamic propelled by these two lead performances. But even then, it seems like too many key moments take place in flatly shot phone conversations between Usha and Pallavi. I mean, letting the two protagonists occupy opposing parts of alternating frames in a phone call in an attempt to make it feel like they are clashing with each other in the same room is all good, until its overdone.

The Verdict

The film also does a grave injustice to Omar Maskati’s character Sandeep. His villainy hardly inspires any feeling of sinister fear until the climax, but by that time it’s too late and the sense of surprise is lost. There are also some geographical inaccuracies and strange desi accents, which the makers probably thought that the western audience won’t notice. The conclusion is overly melodramatic and overall, the direction is rather dull and dissatisfying.

The film does deserve some credit for its employment of a compelling cycle-of-abuse metaphor. It sincerely depicts the effects of toxic behaviour both for those who do not recognise it, and those who are all too familiar with it. And it does so specifically within a non-Western cultural context. But then again, do we have more stories to tell about Indian-Americans that go beyond arranged marriages, stereotypical superstitious beliefs, crazy supernaturalism or ideological generational clashes? Yes? Then let’s have some more of those please.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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Movie Review: Amazon Prime’s Evil Eye Is More Drama, Less Horror
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