Living dead: Betaal could have been a worthy contribution to Indian horror.
Instead of soaring, the Netflix\’s steady start crashes and burns, just like its zombies
For any film or television venture into the paranormal to resonate widely, there requires a certain suspension of belief. This rings true in the case of Betaal, Netflix’s latest four-part horror show. Created by Patrick Graham, who also made Ghoul, the series attempts to reinvent the zombie genre with an army of British Redcoats who return from the dead to victimise a village of tribals. Simultaneously, the unfortunate villagers are also slandered as naxals by corrupt industrialists hungry to further their own nefarious agendas.
The premise is original with enough heft to carry forward its zombie central theme, especially in its treatment of adapting the story of Vikram Aur Betaalinto a contemporary setting. Graham’s zombies are part vampires with the powers of hypnosis and a chilling blood thirst that ticks off all the right horror boxes. As promised, the directors, Graham with Nikhil Mahajan slowly build the fear factor introducing the ‘Betaal’ curse that could wipe out humanity. The show’s characters are well fleshed-out, from Vikram Sirohi (Vineet Kumar Singh) battling his own past and moral compass to Panya (Manjiri Pupala), a fiercely brave tribal woman intent on saving humanity.
For the first three episodes, Betaalcomes along nicely, even if it doesn’t reinvent the horror wheel. As the climax approaches, the show loses its somewhat firm tether to the plot. The term kid gloves, doesn’t come close to the imbecilic explanations provided. Whatever benefit of doubt has been doled out is shattered. A particular scene involving the repair of an ancient cannon (in mere minutes with magically procured tools) is jaw dropping. Not in the good way. Other realisations come into focus: zombies awake after centuries with fetid faces and rank hair have pristine red coats and boots. At some point, they drag themselves as if in a stupor. Other times, they’re faster than quicksilver. A child (Syna Anand) – the object of boss zombie, Colonel Lynedoch’s (Richard Dillane) sacrificial desires – continues to gnaw on nerves with her inability to contribute to saving her own life.
As far as performances go, the actors have played their parts with what has been offered to them: perfectly adequate. With above par production value, Betaal at least looks and feels the part of a grim zombie escapade. But its shaky narrative, which violently falls apart, wrecks what could have been a worthy contribution to the oft-wronged genre. It’s unfortunate because the show is not only backed by Shah Rukh Khan but horror behemoth Blumhouse Productions too. To put it succinctly, Betaal tried to deliver the chills but spectacularly froze instead.
Betaal is currently streaming on Netflix