Evil Eye is the first movie under the Welcome to the Blumhouse banner that is specifically supernatural, but not in the way Western audiences will be used to.
It’s the story of a loving but frequently tense mother-daughter relationship that runs into turmoil when the mother suspects that her daughter’s new boyfriend is the reincarnated version of her own abusive ex who died thirty years before. Reincarnation isn’t something that comes up a lot in Western media, probably for reasons to do with religious and cultural beliefs.; apart from the bizarre Nicole Kidman film, Birth, and a smattering of early X-Files episodes, reincarnation is not a mainstay, at least not in the media that I myself consume.
This works to Evil Eye’s advantage, as does the crossover of cultures represented by Pallavi Kharti’s life in New Orleans and her mother Usha’s controlling influence from India. Usha (Sarita Choudury) is an almost cliché version of the controlling parent, trying her best to micromanage her daughter’s love-life so she can have a good marriage. This doesn’t sit well with the more Americanised Pallavi (Glow’s Sunita Mani), who just wants to live her life on her own terms. It’s only when she is forced to go to a set-up with a potential suitor by her mother that she meets the seemingly perfect Sandeep only for Usha to begin believing that he is a reincarnated version of the man who abused her who will now abuse Pallavi.
The reincarnation angle doesn’t fit all that well as an explanation for Usha’s feelings about Sandeep, an aspect which works both for and against the movie. Usha’s growing paranoia and her belief that Sandeep is a monster from her past does make her sound like she has lost her mind. It’s almost as if directors Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani want to keep everyone, including the audience, at arms length from Usha, priming us to believe that she might be having a nervous breakdown because she, despite being the main instigator in her daughter’s forced search for a husband, is also not ready to let her go. But it’s also hard to get a grasp on what the film wants us to come away believing – not in the compelling, ambiguous way, but as though the filmmakers aren’t themselves sure of the answer.
Evil Eye is not a great movie. It’s solid, with its characters and performances, but the inner-workings of the supernatural side are ill-defined. While entertained by the genre trappings of such a movie, I think that Evil Eye would be a much better movie if the genre trappings were taken out completely. Make Usha and her trauma the main story – Sarita Choudury’s performance proves that it could work. Instead, Evil Eye is stuck between a rock and a hard place, the human drama (like the previous two Blumhouse movies) is the reason I didn’t want to turn Evil Eye off, but if you eliminated the genre aspects then chances are I wouldn’t be reviewing this movie in the first place since it’s the horror that grants you the key Into the Blumhouse. For better and for worse.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via CUltured Vultures)