Review: ‘Ezra’ has its jumps but its projection of mental illness should make you more uneasy

This is an old-fashioned horror flick with the usual elements.
Review: ‘Ezra’ has its jumps but its projection of mental illness should make you more uneasy
Review: ‘Ezra’ has its jumps but its projection of mental illness should make you more uneasy
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A Christian man married to a Hindu woman fights a Jewish evil spirit with the help of a Muslim cop, a Christian priest and a Jewish rabbi. Who said secularism is dead in India, eh? I was hoping for a Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist to crop up somewhere too but that was being too greedy.

Jokes apart, Ezra is an old-fashioned horror flick with all the usual elements. A large house with too many mirrors, a creepy househelp (in one scene, she’s watching The Conjuring II late at night), inexplicable sounds, and of course, a sensitive woman who first starts experiencing strange happenings.

Ghosts, it would seem, are chivalrous beings. “Ladies first,” they always seem to say, and no matter what their motive or grudge, it’s the women who are cherry-picked first for the haunting.  So, when Ranjan (Prithviraj) and Priya (Priya Anand) move to Fort Kochi from Mumbai, you already know what’s going to happen as they enter the old villa which is going to be their home. Just like Ganga of Manichitrathaazhu, Priya is excited by antiques and procures a box with a troublesome history (not Pandora’s box but Abraham Ezra’s).

If you are looking to scream all the way through and spill your popcorn every two minutes, Ezra will come as a disappointment. There are only a handful of scenes that will genuinely make you jump but it’s not as if the rest of the narrative is flat. Director Jay K takes his time to tell the story – there’s a love saga built in, the story of a controlling father and an obedient son, a betrayal, and black magic.

However, there are some parts of the plot which are disconcerting. For instance, the ease with which every character in the film, whether a police officer or a doctor, buys the theory of the haunting. Nobody thinks of calling a psychiatrist or examining any other possibility that’s remotely rational. Everyone’s too happy to believe that the old box is the reason and jumps on the exorcism boat enthusiastically, whatever be their faith.

The film’s approach towards mental health is especially troubling. In one of the scenes, an old rabbi tells Ranjan that the evil spirit will only possess those whose minds are not in alignment with their bodies…like babies and the mentally ill.

Later, it is revealed that the spirit does occupy someone who has a history with a psychiatric disorder. In Manichitrathaazhu, a psychiatric disorder becomes the reason for the character’s grand illusions, but in Ezra, the character is shown as being susceptible to “evil” spirits because of the very condition. This is a problematic, even offensive, narrative, especially in a country like ours where there is very little awareness about mental health and patients suffering from psychiatric problems are frequently subjected to dubious shamans and religious frauds.

There are a couple of logical loopholes, too, but that’s the atheist in me looking for rationalism in a horror flick. Never mind.

The cast does a decent job of keeping things together – Prithviraj and Priya Anand share a warm chemistry and others like Tovino Thomas, Vijayraghavan, and Sujith Sankar are adequate.  Exorcism scenes can become comic in the hands of poor actors but the convincing performances of the cast, especially the lead pair, save the film from going downhill. Sujith Vaassudev’s camera captures beautiful visuals of Mumbai and Fort Kochi and effectively builds tension within the spookily lit interiors of the house.

Ezra is not a perfect film and depends a bit too much on religious mumbo jumbo to drive things forward, however, it’s not a bad watch if you’re a fan of the genre and like to eat your popcorn, too.

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