The buzz ahead of the release of Aval compared the film to the amazing Hollywood scare-fest – The Conjuring. The bad news is that Aval never quite hits the mark that the best horror films of recent times have set. The good news is that it still does a hell of a job keeping you riveted to your seat almost to the end.
The film revolves around a hot-shot surgeon and his wife (Siddharth and Andrea Jeremiah) and the family next door, whose teenage daughter (Anisha Victor) is possessed.
If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you’ll clearly see just how much Siddharth and director Milind Rau, who wrote the script together, have been inspired by the best offerings from US, Japanese and other filmmakers. So, you’ll spot scenes that bear more than a casual resemblance to variety of classics from The Exorcist to The Ring.
But that works both ways. While you might want to crib about all the ‘inspiration’, you’ll still have to admit that Aval works hard to keep to the superb technical and artistic standards that these films have set. And for the most part, it succeeds.
So, whether it’s the visual effects or the soundscape, the film walks a tight line, very rarely venturing into either gaudy excess or damp squib territory.
The makeup for the film is another superb achievement. There’s no badly painted white faces and camp ghosts with warts and big noses here. Instead, the apparitions you’re faced with are genuinely frightening.
While the scary scenes may be predictably inspired from other films, that doesn’t mean they’re any less hair raising.
Even where they may not have you jumping out of your seats, there are scenes that you absorb you thanks to the quality of their staging and filming.
There’s a scene in the second half of the film, in particular, where Siddharth steps into what looks like a surrealist painting of a bizarrely twisted living room. You can’t help but admire its aesthetics, even as you wait for the next scare that makes you jump out of your seat.
So too the exorcism scene just before the interval. While the action in the scene is blocked in fairly predictable ways, the sound effects that accompany it fill up all your senses and keep you gripped.
But what’s also interesting is that the film puts a fair amount of thought in keeping the flow of going between its scary scenes, which the plot thankfully doesn’t stuff the film with. So, there’s plotlines like the crush that the teenage girl develops for the hotshot surgeon, which are written and played out fairly carefully. In all these, Aval doesn’t fall back on many of the stereotypes and bad writing one has come to expect in run-of-the-mill horror films.
The actors are all mostly on the money. Siddharth is convincing in the role of a dashingly confident surgeon who suddenly sees his world falling apart, as is Andrea as his wife. Anisha plays the haunted teenager to the hilt. And Atul Kulkarni is the highlight, as the frightened father who can only watch as unexplainable madness descends on his family.
The film is not perfect, however. When it finally gets to its big reveals, you can’t help but feel a bit let down at the reasons behind all the madness. The climax also struggles to maintain the tension that it so carefully built up early on.
But, by then, the film has you hooked enough that you don’t really mind. Aval may not be The Conjuring, but it’s still a really convincing effort and one you should not miss.