#HorrorHottakes will be one of the reoccurring features on my blog where I pick a streaming horror film that I have not seen (and, in some cases, have not even heard of) and I will watch it, think about it and write on it within 24 hours from my usual publishing time. My first selection is a Hindi language film from 2014, Darr @ The Mall.
I can honestly say this is the first Indian horror film I have seen. I've had a small amount of exposure to Bollywood cinema and the main thing I look for in Bollywood films are the musical numbers that often come out of nowhere, but are strangely satisfying to a guy who doesn't particularly care for musicals of any sort. Darr @ The Mall has one such musical number in its two hour runtime which really just feels like what would be an extended club scene in any other film. The only thing that marks that moment as being in the vein of Bollywood is its centrality for those three to four minutes and how there is no dialogue or action taking place during it. It is meant to be enjoyed as a sort of intermission with all of its strange pop musicality.
The drive of the narrative surrounds the "largest mall in Asia" which is about to have it's grand opening with an all-out party for its guests. A new security guard, Vishnu, is brought in to take the reins under rather strange circumstances. He takes the job and the party begins. The owners and management are in attendance along with a their teenage/college-age kids and their friends which, for most of the movie, constitutes its own separate storyline. However, when people at the party start to die off one by one after seeing apparitions of young kids and an evil, smoky adult ghost, it is up to Vishnu and the remaining attendees--all of them tied to the owners and management of the new mall--to figure out what is going on and try to survive the night.
The plot is nothing new and is fairly derivative to be honest. It takes a note from all of the films where structures are built atop places where they should have never been built (a la Poltergeist). In the final minutes of the film, we see that the two owners of the mall had offered to pay the nun--whether Catholic or Hindu, I am uncertain, though the outfit looked Catholic--who ran an orphanage, so they could tear down the orphanage and build the mall. She refused, so the owners burned it down, killed the nun and the kids died in the proceeding fire. Once again, greed leads to literal blood on the hands of the rich at the expense of the poor and the sacred. None of this is really new to the horror canon.
The one aspect I can say may have been slightly verging into original terrain is the mixture of commentary about consumerism--the last significant film in a mall with such commentary was Dawn of the Dead--and the narrative tropes of the Poltergeist-style haunting film. We see the toll of greed and the cost of consumer demand (the drive for "malls" in the first place) on the lives of those who are poor and disadvantaged--i. e. the orphans--and material wealth and gain as the things that now fill the vacancies where the sacred once held sway--i.e. the nun.
In one moment of rather ham-fisted dialogue between one owner's daughter and her friend, they are talking about the negative aspect of malls. The girl opines that someone goes into a mall for one item and comes out with ten and that it isn't good for people. Her brother rebuffs her by mentioning all of the specialty clothing and accessories that she wears all the time transforming her into basically a walking, talking representation of the mall. Even the low-end shopping centers and malls thrive on making products feasible and cheap enough to ultimately wrench more money out of people who probably don't really have the expendable income that the rich have. In other words, the girl, though she is a victim of the very mentality she is decrying (but has the money to expend!), makes the case that malls create a society where people live beyond their means. And, to some extent, she probably has a point.
Those malls that supply goods, both high and low end, were in many cases built atop areas where low-end houses and neighborhoods once stood and they create a space where temptation to live beyond means is much easier to incubate thereby keeping the poor, poor, or, worse, making them poorer and making the rich richer. The movie's commentary is largely too simplistic, but to say it has no merit within the age of democracy and Capitalism is probably naive as well.
The film, minus this one intriguing element of commentary, on the whole is rather dull and the effects are largely half-baked and poorly executed. The acting is decent but delivers nothing that stands out. I actually would like to see more Bollywood horror films made because I think there could be some truly entertaining and insane conceptual stuff that traditional Bollywood elements could bring to the horror genre. Unfortunately, this one doesn't quite utilize those elements effectively for the film is neither engrossing nor frightening in any significant way.
Darr @ The Mall (2014)
dir. Pawan Kripalani
Starring Jimmy Shergill, Nushrat Bharucha, Arif Zakaria
Runtime: 124 minutes