Madhuri Shekar wrote the award-winning audio play Evil Eye, which she’s now adapted into a film for Amazon Prime, as part of their four ‘Welcome to the Blumhouse’ horror offerings—along with The Lie, Nocturne, and Black Box. The concept translates over, although this remake from identical twin directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani (co-produced by Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra) struggles with momentum and won’t surprise anyone who’s read the synopsis. Or watched the trailer.
Pallavi Kharti (Mr Robot’s Sunita Mani) is a beautiful and intelligent young woman living in New Orleans, born of Indian heritage. As the last remaining singleton in her family, her superstitious mother Usha (Sarita Choudhury) frets about her daughter’s love life and keeps calling from India with well-meaning but annoying queries about when she’s going to find a nice man and settle down.
Usha’s concern appears to be sated when Pallavi meets a wealthy hunk called Sandeep (Omar Maskati), and they begin a passionate relationship that seems destined for marriage. But memories of a terrible incident from Usha’s past bubbles to the surface, as her initial happiness for her daughter’s new situation turns into seemingly irrational fear.
I have no doubt Evil Eye made for an engaging listen on Audible, taking the form of intimate conversations over the phone. The problem with bringing this story to a visual medium is that few people will be watching who don’t know the concept, and yet the story takes half its runtime to get the characters on the same page. This means you’re ahead of everyone in the story for too long, desperately waiting for a sense of uncertainty to present itself so you can fully engage with the narrative.
The hook of the story is that Usha killed an abusive ex-boyfriend 30 years ago, whom she thinks has been reincarnated as Sandeep and intends to continue his wicked ways with her own child. The idea isn’t without some merit, but feels better suited to a half-hour Twilight Zone tale than a feature-length horror movie. There’s just too much wheel-spinning and you’re expected to primarily invest in a light romantic drama, when you’ve gone in expecting a creepy horror based on the title. The three leads are amiable and wring what they can from the material, but the tone of Evil Eye is like a cheap Hallmark movie with only occasional flashbacks reminding you this was co-produced by the company behind Get Out (2017).
Once Pallavi’s aware of her mother’s insane theory, the second half of Evil Eye does become more entertaining, as you’re keen to see how things play out after investing almost an hour into the setup. Unfortunately, the script clings to a predictable path and creates a laughable way for Sandeep to accidentally show his true colours to his girlfriend. But what’s more frustrating is the sense the paranormal concept and questions it begs aren’t fully explored. If Sandeep’s the reincarnation of an abusive man, did he always know this growing up? So is it pure coincidence he met Pallavi, daughter of his past self’s girlfriend? Or did he spend this new life trying to track her down? Do people reincarnate into their same ethnicity?
Evil Eye has no interest in exploring conceptual questions horror fans are likely to be asking, as it’s more a spooky way to frame a human drama about past trauma and maternal worries about your children’s longterm happiness. And that’s fine. It’s just misleading to make Evil Eye part of the exclusive Blumhouse horrors on Amazon Prime. But without that brand association, fewer people would have given it a second glance when scrolling around.
Slow and ultimately unsatisfying, there’s not much about Evil Eye to recommend unless you’re a fan of relationship dramas with a thin layer of spookiness that arrive at obvious conclusions. Without big surprises or memorable shocks, Evil Eye ambles along relying on the chemistry of its lead actors, stretching its premise to breaking point and refusing to take things down unexpected paths.
USA | 2020 | 90 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • HINDI
Cast & Crew
directors: Elan Dassani & Rajeev Dassani.
writer: Madhuri Shekar (based on her audio play).
starring: Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, Omar Maskati & Bernard White.