Review by Sean Boelman
Taking its inspiration from rituals of the Hindu religion, Sidharth Srinivasan’s art horror Kriya, his first narrative feature in ten years, is a disturbing and fascinating experience. Blending elements of psychological and supernatural horror, this film creeps under your skin in unexpected ways before taking hold in one hell of a climax.
The movie follows a young DJ who is picked up by an attractive woman and taken to her home, soon finding himself in over his head when he discovers that her father is dying and he must become a part of the last rites. This is certainly a prime example of art that is better understood with a knowledge and understanding of its cultural context, and some post-watch research will certainly lead to a greater appreciation of its intricacies.
Some audiences are likely going to have a hard time getting into the first half of the film, which is understandable. A lot of information is thrown at the audience rather quickly, and it’s all pretty essential for understanding what goes down in the finale, which is, without a doubt, the movie’s main success.
Srinivasan’s script is perhaps most effective as a deconstruction of an extremely patriarchal society. The more melodrama-oriented portion of the script has a lot more development than the horror side, and as such, it lends itself to a greater connection. The examination of grief here is nothing new, but the way in which Srinivasan uses it to build upon his more interesting things is excellent.
The film also has some really intriguing character development. A shroud of ambiguity surrounds everyone except for the protagonist, who is even a bit mysterious himself. For most of the movie, the audience is kept in the dark as a means of forcing them to question what is going on, and it’s really unsettling.
Noble Luke gives a very compelling performance, really capturing the everyman feel that is necessary for the audience to identify with the character. However, it is the supporting cast — the peculiar family pulling the strings — that stands out. Navjot Randhawa’s performance is quite haunting, and Kanak Bhardwaj is pretty excellent too.
That said, the single best aspect of this film is its imagery. The movie starts with a hypnotic dance sequence with flashing lights, and while that may aggravate some, it sets the precedent for the surreal and trance-like nature of the rest of the film. And when the ritualistic elements fully come into play, Srinivasan’s eerie approach is completely satisfying.
Kriya is a culturally-rich horror movie, and one that will likely perplex a lot of the genre’s fans. Sidharth Srinivasan’s style and plotting is deliberate, causing a sense of unease, but it may be a bit too much of a slow burn for some tastes.
Kriya screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2. An encore screening (geoblocked to Canada) occurs on August 29 at 11:15pm.
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