If there’s one genre of filmmaking that’s growing by leaps and bounds across industries, it’s the horror film. Watch Aake, for instance, and you’ll see just how much has percolated down from Hollywood and elsewhere.
A smart adaptation of the Tamil film Maya directed by Ashwin Saravanan, Aake has a lot to offer. For one, the story stays hearteningly far from religion and superstition. Instead, it’s secular evils that are at the heart of this film – Maya, a woman driven to ‘madness’ by the infidelity of the husband she poisons to death, ends up in an asylum that uses her as a guinea pig for illegal drugs. Her newborn child, her last tether to sanity is also taken away from her, creating a great anger that persists beyond her tragic death.
Aake builds the story along two parallel tracks – in London, it follows an artist who’s illustrating a book about Maya whose life is suddenly and violently overturned; and in Bengaluru, it follows a single mother who’s feeling eerily haunted even as she struggles to put her life in order. The film takes a long time to bring the two plotlines together, and it’s this resistance to divulge the secret early on that delivers most of the chills and thrills to the film.
What’s most interesting about Aake is that it relies on a slow and steady build-up of the atmospherics, constantly creating the dread of anticipation, without giving into the temptation of a quick unleashing of violence. So, with each new sequence, the thrill increases, as you’re sure that this time malevolence will be unleashed. And when it finally is unleashed, there’s nothing that feels excessive or overplayed.
What works for Aake is that the fundamentals are all done right. So, the camera stays close-in and tightly focused, keeping an almost claustrophobic view on the film’s protagonists and antagonists. This helps ratchet the tension higher, as you’re constantly wondering what’s lingering just outside the frame.
The film’s soundscape is also sharply focused for the most part, staying away from the kind of cacophonous excess that turns many horror films into unintentional comedies.
The film is also fairly well cast, with Sharmiela Mandre, in particular, shining on screen. One wishes that Prakash Belawadi had delivered a more even performance, as his character sometimes rings too flat. Chiranjeevi Sarja comes off as very relatable too.
The climax of the film is a bit of a let down. After slowly building up the thrills through hints and suggestions director Chaitanya isn’t quite able to deliver the final bang. Where the earlier sequences work so well precisely because they linger just a moment longer than one would like, the climactic scenes fall because they’ve not been edited tightly enough.
Still, Aake is a more than worthwhile watch, sure to send a shiver or two down your spine, and linger with you even after you’ve left the theatre.