The familiar horror movie message that dead children should be left in peace is slightly varied in this effective ghost story from British writer-director Johannes Roberts (F, Storage 24), which uses Hindu lore rather than the Native American burial ground of Pet Sematary, the three wishes of The Monkey’s Paw (which did come from India) or the psychic flashes of Don’t Look Now. Here, an unwary Western parent who resorts to magic to summon the ghost of a drowned son doesn’t call the lad back from heaven but upsets his place in the karmic cycle.
A haunting-possession movie that offers a few surprises, sufficient scares and a nicely barbed punchline.
The set-up requires a lot of plot and character beats (including a suicide attempt) to make it credible that a savvy local would share specialised knowledge with someone who’s obviously going to do what she was told not to. However, once Oliver’s ghost is about, the film gets on track as charming manifestations (playing the piano) shade into darker behaviour. The ghost becomes demanding – insisting his mother read from The Jungle Book to him – and given to tantrums, which include putting bitemarks on his sister Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky) and eventually possessing her.
Things get worse as fakirs who smear the ashes of dead folks on their bodies congregate near the family home for unknown purposes and husband Michael (Jeremy Sisto) starts to wonder whether his wife a danger to their surviving child – who, in a suspenseful sequence, seems to go missing in crowded, cramped Mumbai streets. For extra horror, the Myrtu (Javier Botet, the creature specialist who played Mama), a six-armed deity unleashed when the door was opened, also makes alarming appearances.
Callies is a forceful yet fragile lead, especially when playing opposite the refreshingly natural (and sometimes really creepy) Rosinsky, while Sisto valiantly makes something of the stock role of the husband conveniently held up at the office whenever the haunting goes into overdrive. It wrestles Indian beliefs in order to produce the sort of hauntings more common in Japanese cinema than Bollywood, but treats local custom with more respect than usual.