Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Darkness Visible: Bad Karma in Kolkata

You have to be intrigued by a horror movie set in India that references John Milton. It might technically be a British production, but it is definitely still in tune with the setting and culture of Kolkata. Ronnie the lifelong Londoner never really knew the city of his birth, but he is about to get immersed in some local color, whether he likes it or not, in Neil Biswas’s Darkness Visible, which releases today on DVD, from Blue Fox Entertainment.

Frankly, Ronnie did not even know he was born in Kolkata. His mum always told him he was born in London, shortly after she arrived, on her own. Supposedly, his father abandoned them, but he will soon have reason to doubt that too. Until now, he never had much interest in his Bengali heritage, because his mother completely turned her back on it, for as long as he can remember. That is why he is so stunned when she turns up in a coma in a Kolkata hospital bed, after mysteriously disappearing on his twentieth-eighth birthday. Of course, viewers can see she was obviously spooked by his latest graffiti painting of an ominous painting of a notorious Kolkata neighborhood.

Soon, Ronnie is meeting Kolkata relatives for the first time and falling under suspicion for a series of ritualistic murders. He is an easy scapegoat, but Asha, a police photographer, knows better. She identifies the commonalities with another series of occult murders that coincidentally happened twenty-eight years ago. Presumably Ronnie could not have committed those, but Rakhee, a notorious practitioner of black magic is clearly involved.

Darkness looks great and it definitely has its creepy moments, but Biswas’s pacing is a bit slack. Frankly, most viewers will realize around the forty-minute mark that this narrative really should be much further along by then. Darkness clocks in at one-hundred one minutes, but it honestly should have come in around the eighty-to-eighty-five range. Oh well, such is life.

Regardless, nobody can fault the film when it comes to atmosphere. Biswas and cinematographer fully capitalize on the noir ambiance of their Kolkata locations. The professional ensemble also keeps up their end, particularly Jaz Deol, who credibly portrays all sorts of physical and emotional extremes as Ronnie. Sayani Gupta and Neil Bhoopalam both counterbalance him quite effectively, as the smart, proactive Asha and Ronnie’s judgmental cousin AJ, respectively.

Given the volume of low-to-no budget horror movies released each week, Darkness certainly stands out as something rather distinctive, but it is still essentially a B-movie. It just does not have the depth or the archetypal heft of Tumbbad or Sunrise, yet it is still sufficiently different to pleasantly distract die-hard genre consumers. Recommended for fans of non-western horror movies, Darkness Visible releases today (3/12) on DVD.