Ghoul is the new Netflix mini-series, directed by Patrick Graham and backed by BlumHouse productions and Phantom, companies which, in the past, did not shy away from involving political and racial issues at the centre of the premise of their films. ( Udta Punjab, Bhavesh Joshi and Get Out ). The voice of the producers backing it, certainly comes through loud and clear in this horror drama that deals with the socio-political horrors of the current times; forced nationalism, irrational patriotism and religious terrorism and each of these fundamentalist ideologies, become a source of great fear, as they eat away at the soul of humanity.
Ghoul deals with ideas that are too smart for its makers and as a result falls flat on its face.
Ghoul is set in the ‘near future’, echoing the Black Mirror kind of setup. For some weird reason, there seem to be more Landline telephones and walkie-talkies and recording cassette tapes in the near future, this bewildering choice must have some significance that completely went above my head, like the most part of that absurd climactic mayhem. Rahim, played by Radhika Apte, is a part of the armed forces and is a Muslim ‘Desh Bhakt’ who wouldn’t spare her own ‘Desh Drohi’ father. Use of words like this is either just bad writing or is a sarcastic take on today’s political climate in India. The series is set in an ‘ Area 51 ‘ kind of place, where the most ‘khatarnak’ criminals are held captive and are tortured by a set of trained soldiers who sound like teenagers constantly looking out for a brawl. The apparent lack of depth and credibility to these characters, who are supposed to be the toughest Desh Bhakts is a mystery to me.
Rahim is called over to the Advanced Interrogation cell as they are expecting Ali Saeed, head of a terrorist organisation. This mini-series wastes far too much time in setting up the situation and the characters as the actual plot only kicks at the end of the first episode. Too much exposition is a clear indication of the lack of belief in the film-making ability of the team. Things only start to take a horror turn, when Saeed Ali is held and the incompetent, naive soldiers start interrogating him, only to be taken over by the Ghoul inside him. This Interrogation scene is easily the best part of the series, although it builds all the tension, only to shatter it all by the end of the scene, with an extremely clumsy screenplay, with perplexing shifts in the subject matter of a scene. But wait for it, the complete absurdity doesn’t come as yet. The climax, in which a very important revelation is made, is awfully executed. In this asinine climactic act, the loyalties of the characters are thrown around like hot potato, completely destroying the credibility of every character, if there was any in the first place. There is one particularly annoying character of a lady officer who has her doubts about Rahim’s loyalty towards her country. This character is straight out of a Saas-Bahu daily soap, the odd pitch of this performance sticks out among other docile performances. The inconsistency in the acting pitch is something you don’t expect makers like these to overlook. Every aspect of the show is amateurish, as if an enthusiastic teenager who had a Eureka moment, jumped out of his house to creat a half cooked series, with an exciting premise.
The performances, to put it mildly, are awful. Expect for a reliable Radhika Apte and the creepy presence of Mahesh Balraj who plays Ali Saeed, all the other actors are loud and completely out of depth. Manav Kaul as the chief, tries hard to bring some kind of eminence to his pointless character who looks more confused than a school boy captaining his school team for the first time. The fact that a non Indian has directed this series could be a reason for the weird characters and dialogue as they seem like direct translation of English dialogue, which hampers the writing further and loses any prominence it had gained with a terrific story idea. The horror aspect of this show is better left undiscussed, as the jump scares only dilute the creepiness that tends to build thanks to the atmospherics of the show.
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The story idea is the most creative thought in this weirdly cocky horror drama. The idea of using the supernatural element as a vigilante bringing justice is an idea that deserved a much better series, made with some depth and written with some sort of coherence. The attempt to make a strong political statement using horror as motif, is a terrific opportunity wasted.