Review: Netflix’s Ghoul parlays nationalism into convincing horror

Indian-produced miniseries also refreshingly defies stereotypes in its portrayal of relationships between women


GHOUL (Patrick Graham), three episodes streaming on Netflix from Friday (August 24). Subtitles. Rating: NNN


Normally when I review a series, I watch the first few episodes before I start writing. But due to a technical glitch, I was only able to view the second episode of the Netflix miniseries Ghoul. Within a few minutes I was enthralled and spooked.

India’s entertainment is synonymous with Bollywood: heroes and heroines, big fat weddings, campy song-and-dance love stories. But Indians love action, and thrillers are becoming more popular. Produced by the makers of Insidious, Get Out and Udta Punjab, Ghoul refreshingly combines elements of horror and the supernatural with current social and political issues.

Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj) is a prisoner being interrogated regarding anti-nationalist behaviour. Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) is a junior interrogator trying to cut her teeth and impress her bosses while fighting the demons of her father, who protested against the government.

After five years on the lam, Saeed has surrendered and is being held in a remote military facility. But he very quickly takes control of the situation from his interrogators. With sudden movements, animal sounds and naming the family members of interrogators, Saeed throws them off their game.

I often watch horror and thrillers, but am rarely scared. Here, the portrayal of contemporary issues of nationalism and terror in India combined with the supernatural, made me jump a couple of times. It is a believable take on a corrupt penal system and questionable interrogation tactics. Classic Indian cinematic drama is employed for extra effect, with senior interrogator Sunil Dacunha’s (Manav Kaul) monologue about being a hero, committed to his country and a loyal nationalist.

The intensity of the narrative and the environment are evoked through cinematography, lighting and set design. In one very graphic scene, a character is shot in the head, and blood splatters on the wall behind, but beautifully. Sparse, concrete rooms create echoes and dark lighting maintains an eerie tone. Grainy surveillance videos of torture rooms with equipment but without people are chilling.

In episode two, an unknown connection is implied between Rahim and Saeed, merely by their glances. And, while his sleep is prevented as an act of torture, hers is disturbed by vivid nightmares of a cloaked man.

The relationship between Rahim and a senior female colleague defies stereotypes of Indian women being powerless and homebound. These two officers connect through conversation, with the senior offering support, but her strategy for professional success is different. She tells Rahim she enjoys her job, which is to strip women bare, alluding to her sexuality. Rahim chooses a more intellectual approach, talking to Dacunha about interrogation strategy. This portrayal of Indian women as contrary to western stereotypes, enhances the show’s appeal.

I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series from start to finish – in one sitting. You should, too.

movies@nowtoronto.com | @checkoutrach

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