Netflix original’s miniseries Ghoul by Patrick Graham effectively scares you with a serious comment on socio-political scenario, symbolically though
The trailers raised the bar. The series with 3 episodes is terrifying, spooky, and sends a chill down your spine. Even with some (read: very few) really good horror flicks in Hindi cinema, it is often ridiculed for not being able to show and present horror as the genre demands; Ghoul is well right on the path and you definitely see hope in the times to come. Here horror isn’t about creaking doors, or funnily made up faces. Instead it evolves from the story and while it frightens, it also has a lot to say.
Watch the trailer here:
The plot set in dystopian future revolves around Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) who’s been recruited as an interrogator in the detention center of National Protection Squad even when she’s undergoing her training. While the squad is grateful to her for being a rightful citizen after she gets her father Shahnawaz (S M Zaheer) arrested for conducting anti-national activities, there’s more to her recruitment. Her quest for truth in the detention center becomes her battle for survival.
The story by Graham himself is novel, especially for the Indian audience, for various reasons. Firstly, it does away with the conventional notions of horror involving a dilapidated mansion, the actress possessed by an evil spirit, and mostly using Hindu Gods as a way to obstruct them or fulfil their wishes. Here, the horror comes from within the plot. The story is penned in a way that the elements, almost all of them find their justification from within the situations created in the plot. For instance, if you have an evil spirit coming to avenge something, you know its logical by the end of the drama. Nothing seems over the top and unnecessary, created only for the purpose of entertainment. It is sensible, logical, and justified.
Of course after the trailers you knew the genre, hence you are not in for a surprise for something strange. You know something will happen and you keep guessing, that’s exactly where Graham has succeeded. Right from the initial sequences where the space is established, especially the detention center, you are in for a strange disgust about the place, and on the larger front the situation of the country. Intelligently enough, while the locations are established, you have your story take shape slowly. But the pace picks up soon.
Graham here must also be credited for not sticking only to horror and harping on the same in every frame. What is important here is the story and how a larger socio-political commentary is made. You are shown about the modus operandi of officers here, comment on the religious identities of characters, their hidden guilt, notion of true patriotism and nationalism, and eventually who a monster really is- form the part of sub-themes running parallel to horror. It is because of this that the script becomes interesting, as it carries a larger motive.
However it must be said that the sub themes are depicted so subtly that the series requires you to be intelligent to be able to get those meaning and nuances. Chances are many that you’ll miss details. There are scenes where a simple ‘Huh?’ slaps the system right on the face. It is these points where you need alertness.
Having said that, don’t expect the series to shock and shatter you by fear. Moments are woven into the screenplay as and when needed and no extra effort has been taken just for the sake of it. But the moments, whichever and wherever they are, are simply brilliant and to die for.
The first episode establishes the plot and tells you about the characters. Here you also question the makers for their inability to come up with back stories and their motivation in the plot. While the lead actors do get their justification by the 3rd episode, a lot many characters are reduced to mere supporting acts. And mind you, the series boasts of a lot of characters. Call it a weak link, you wanted more of other characters as well, for a more satisfying comprehension. Just a more satisfying one.
Radhika Apte, as always is simply brilliant. She carries the entire plot on her shoulders and mind you, they are strong. The layers to her role- innocent, strong, bold, frightened, nervous, righteous, evil- she portrays all with effortless ease. Ofcourse this isn’t an easy role. But given the lustrous past and her decorated filmography, it seems visually that it was never a daunting task for her to master this.
Likewise Manav Kaul in his role of Colonel Sunil Dacunha gives an act of cakewalk. Although he does supremely well what is needed for the role. But the actor is capable of way more. Here he’s restrained, hiding in a lot right from the beginning till the end. Its his mental agony more than his job that rules. And he depicts this psychology well.
Ratnabali Bhattacharjee as Officer Laxmi Das is good and does what is needed. You do like her, hate her, envy her, and even find her correct. But she’s never able to come forth as a strong guiding force for the plot. That’s how the story and the character is written.
Mahesh Balraj as Ali Saeed, the 2nd lead of the series is extraordinarily good. Just when he appears on screen, you dread him. You are frightened and horrified to the core. Even with just plain expressions on his face, he has the power to hook you. Hats off. Its a strong character in a way that everyone is talking about him. And with his impeccable presence, he proves why his character was worth all the adulation.
The film does have an array of other actors too, but none of them get the scope to shine. Wish the makers had crafted them with substance as well.
Music, background score, and sound design especially deserve standing ovations. Its perfect. Couldn’t have been better. Its given how important is sound for horror, and the makers here have left no stone unturned. The silence is creepy, tiny sound effects- diegetic and non diegetic, and the background score gives you that eeriness, raising the bar to great heights. It is this department that needed to be outstanding. It rightly is.
Cinematography by Jay Oza and Jay Patel would require you to find some more noteworthy adjectives. Its magical. Its magestic. It casts a spell. Redifining in almost every scene. They nail the lighting with visual treat. They establish the strange place evoking suspense.
Editing by Nitin Baid and Graham is extremely sharp. While you are in for suspicion and you doubt makers’ intention initially, you know by the climax that it was all worth it. The pace, the structure, shots and the flow, all have been made thoughtfully.
Production design by Vintee Bansal and Tiya Tejpal is very good. Although a major part of production design is formed by lighting and empty spaces, the intelligent use of props and set structure is done beautifully.
This one is indeed a marvel at technical department- something that makes the story translate to how it should be.
Ghoul is intelligent, also it tests your intelligence. Its makes its way through logic, showing path to aspiring Horror makers. Its a piece needed to be watched with seriousness and sincerity. Stopping midway, attending a call, replying to messages simultaneously? You won’t like it.
Is season 2 on the way? Looking at the last shot, we hope it is.