I always hold mad respect for any movie that manages to make me feel like I’m in a fever dream...
...If a filmmaker is able to bring the weirdness, the kind that makes me question reality and forget that I’m essentially a walking meat sack shambling towards an inevitable expiry date, then I will gladly disregard any cinematic missteps they might take. Movies like Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond or Can Evrenol’s Baskin represent what silver screen storytelling is capable of at its strangest in that it can transport you to a place that feels like a legitimate nightmare plucked from your subconscious. Making its World Premiere at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Kriya (the latest from writer/director Sidharth Srinivasan) is a haunting journey into a dream-like world of ritual magic and supernatural terror. And while perhaps not as visceral a tale as the films mentioned previous, it easily ranks among one of the better entries of their subgenre.
Neel (Noble Luke) is DJing at a club when his eyes meet those of Sitara (Navjot Randhawa), a young woman who appears to be watching him from the dance floor. They leave the club together and begin to make out, and as things begin to escalate Sitara suggests that they go back to her place. Neel drives them to her family’s secluded mansion, but as they enter the structure it immediately becomes clear that things are not what they appear to be. They walk in on the young woman’s family praying over the bound and gagged body of her father, who is in the last moments of his life. When the old man dies, Neel is asked to assist in the patriarch’s funeral ritual, but it soon becomes apparent that this will be no ordinary ceremony. As black magic and a family curse begin to make themselves known, the young man realizes that he’s been pulled into a generational struggle that may consume him before the night is over.
From the top, Kriya starts to pull you away from reality in subtle but effective ways. Srinivasan begins the movie with an extended shot of the dance club Neel is DJing at, bathing you in pulsating bass and strobing visuals that immediately begin to disorient you. When we leave the club, we enter a nighttime world bathed in darkness. As Neel and Sitara drive to her family’s home, the roads are empty and pitch black, with the headlights of the DJ’s car giving off the only light we see. By the time we arrive at Sitara’s eerie, almost gothic looking mansion, we are completely immersed in a place that feels disconnected from the rest of the world. It’s a masterful setup that establishes a dream-like quality to the film while also birthing a sense of dread and tension that is palpable in almost every scene.
The nightmare realm we descend into as the movie progresses is filled with surreal imagery and windows into the workings of dark ritual magic. In this way, it feels like a procedural-style picture in the vein of Liam Gavin’s fantastic film, A Dark Song. Srinivasan’s ability to blend together dream-logic and the structure of ritual magic makes Kriya a very unique experience. He also explores themes of the conflicts between tradition and modernity and the generational tension that brings, giving the film a weight that makes it ripe for repeat viewings. Finally, for those who enjoy the gorier side of the horror genre, there are a few flesh-tearing practical effects that (on top of feeling like a nod to Romero-style zombie-chomping) will make you cringe with equal parts disgust and delight.
By the end of Kriya, I felt as if I was snapping out of a particularly strange daydream. I didn’t feel dirty or visually violated the way I did after viewing The Beyond or Baskin for the first time, but my brain did feel askew, which might be just as impressive a result. Any movie that makes reality appear to you at Dutch angles for an hour or two after seeing it has done something special, in my book.
By Patrick Brennan