Sarita Choudhury (from the arthouse hit, Mississippi Masala) and Sunita Mani (supporting star in the recently cancelled GLOW) star in a hybrid of South Asian and Hollywood horror, Evil Eye. Based on Madhuri Shekar’s Audible original of the same title, the story chronicles the harsh conflict between a first generation Indian immigrant in America and the American-born second generation within a horror frame. In between superstition, cultural clash, and past trauma, the intercontinental horror has just enough odds to be heavily misguiding for unfamiliar audiences.
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We’ve seen it before and we’ve seen it again; the problem with American-born immigrants from Eastern culture has always been with the cultural clash. The older generation, however liberal, still holds dear the virtues they brought along from their home country; meanwhile, the younger generation is heavily Americanized. With the Indian community, one of the deep-rooting problems is the patriarchy-induced arranged marriage (as seen in comedy documentary, Meet the Patels, or Netflix’s series, Never Have I Ever). The concept might be an alienating view for some cultures; but for people living the virtue, the bond in it might trigger some unnerving thought. That’s where the terror in Elan and Rajeev Dassani’s (writers of Jinn) feature film takes its root.
Most of the story is told over phone calls between Usha (Choudhury), the matriarch living in Delhi (apparently after settling for a long time in New Orleans, and Pallavi (Mani), the daughter who stays in the US. The mother, just like any Indian mother, has a strong desire that her daughter to meet and marry a man in the most Indian way possible. And yet, when an ideal man of her daughter’s own liking (Omar Maskati) presents himself; Usha is convinced that something sinister from her own past has also arrived and endangered the daughter. She speaks of an ancient curse, the titular evil eye, that could take what it missed in the past.
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The superstitious elements in Evil Eye is hidden in the plain sight for most viewers, but it’s basically the root of the evil lurking around. The mother senses a malicious force from the past —something that her daughter can’t rationalize with her non-superstitious view— is preying on Pallavi; meanwhile, Pallavi is convinced that her mother is only being irrationally conservative with her old-school way of thinking. Distrust and culture clash spice up the mother-daughter’s rift while an ambiguous evil hides in the background. The thing is, The Dassani Brothers’ directions does not make the whole picture easier to grasp for casual viewers. The clues are trivial and subtext-laden even when they try to make it as grounded as possible.
With pacing that poses more as trouble than a catalyst, the final question that Evil Eye is set to pose never arrives in time. Whether there’s an actual evil force or whether it’s the past trauma clouding the judgment, the story needs to be ambiguous but still engaging. The goal is only is palpable when if the ambiguity of the threat is digged a little deeper with less alienating way.