Synopsis – A nyctophobic woman has to fight her inner demons to stay alive in the game called life.
My Take – While the world cinema continues to excel in the horror thriller genre, Bollywood filmmakers continue to stick to old generation tactics about all style and no substance. While in recent times, films like director Pavan Kirpalani‘s Phobia starring Radhika Apte and director Akshay Akkineni‘s Pizza did succeed in breaking that norm, the absence of any form of pre-release buzz around them, made sure they ended up with diminishing returns at the box office, hereby killing all future funding and prospects.
However, things are quite different down South, where new age filmmakers continue to get lauded and encouraged for branching out. And this film is complete example of such case, as it is actually a Tamil-Telugu bilingual film dubbed and released in Hindi to cash in the growing popularity of Taapsee Pannu, who recent filmography with films like Pink, Naam Shabana, Soorma, Mulk, Manmarziyan and Badla, has revealed a wisdom to take on unconventional roles.
Presented by Anurag Kashyap and directed Ashwin Saravanan, right from its first promo indicated quite a unique take on the genre, and thanks to its crisp editing, along with a well-written fast-paced screenplay, this film succeeds in managing to play all kinds of games with the viewer’s mind, especially by keeping you on the edge of the seat almost immediately as it starts.
While at times, the lethargic dubbing and a key sequence being replayed seem like an overkill, the heady concoction of jump-scare moments, suspense and slow burning fear makes this film an instantly compelling watch. Like a good video game, it is addictive and regardless of its box-office collection, the film is worth a watch not merely for entertainment but for its new-age cinematic virtues.
The story follows Swapna (Taapsee Pannu), a video game designer who works from the confines of her isolated home, under the supervision of her loving caretaker, Kalamma (Vinodini Vaidyanathan), who plays an important role in helping Swapna deal with her problems, both of the physical and psychological variety.
A year ago, during New Year’s Eve, Swapna was brutally assaulted, leaving her as someone who is constantly teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown as she continues to struggle to come to terms with the traumatic incident. Cut from her family, Swapna chooses instead to obsessively play game after game of Pac-Man to distract herself, but despite her efforts, the demons keep coming back, sending her paranoia spiraling as the line between reality and nightmares rapidly blurs.
With the tattoo on her wrist constantly causing her pain as a reminder, her life goes further downhill, when Swapna finds about her tenuous link with one of the victims of a series of bizarre murders taking place in the city.
The film is as crisp and to-the-point as a thriller can get. It wastes no time on song and dance or back stories for each character. At just over 90 minutes, there are no extras.
The film opens with a chilling murder wherein a young girl named Amrita (Sanchana Natrajan) is brutally snuffed out, setting the tone for what is to follow. We know she is being watched and the uneasy feeling takes us completely in its grip. As the frenzied camera work reveals her beheaded body being set on fire by the mysterious killer, we already are at the edge of our seats.
The film comes across as a murder mystery at the outset. Gradually, it mutates into a psychological thriller in which the life of a girl tosses and turns repeatedly, generating suspense and curiosity. This is a dark, intelligent and cleverly made thriller has an understated suspense building around Swapna’s psychological state in the first half that admittedly takes a little while to get going, the second half picks up the momentum splitting things wide open and with every sequence deliciously thrilling and nail biting.
Sure, the format of revisiting the same incidents again and again with varying outcomes has been done a few times in Hollywood and recently seen in the form of Happy Death Day 2U and the Netflix series Russian Doll, however, here the idea to play out the narrative like it’s a video game with lives gained and lives lost comes out as a novel one.
It’s literally a level up each time our protagonist is up against the rivals, who she must defeat in order to win the game. Here, the character and the story are so well interwoven that it is Swapna’s fear that saves her life each time. It’s not that she overcomes her fear to not die. She lives with it and still, things work out her way, organically.
With most of the film shot indoors, Ron Ethan Yohan‘s score is more minimalist. He underplays it at certain moments and lets the sound design do the magic. However it is the scenes which work in tandem, that stand out. This is a thriller that has a horror element to it, but the film rarely falls into the tropes of a run of the mill horror.
The horror elements used here are not just for jump scares. In fact, there is none. Something as trivial as switching between various CCTV cameras instills a sense of fear. The film is more grounded to the plot and there is so much attention to detail. Even a game like Pac Man becomes a metaphor to Swapna’s life.
Now while everything else seems on point, however, at times, the repetition of certain events acts as a killer for the well-built high tension suspense. Also the dubbing is surprisingly not done well, a factor which can be off putting for many.
Nevertheless, the film primarily clicks because of the screen presence and performance of Taapsee Pannu, who is turning out to be an actress of many shades. Here, the powerhouse performer is wheel chair bound most of the time in the film and gives her best in every scene.
Giving her able company is Vinodhini Vaidyanathan as Kalamma, playing the perfect foil to Taapsee’s on-the-edge Swapna. On the whole, ‘Game Over’ is a spell bounding horror thriller uplifted by its novel execution and powerful act.
Directed – Ashwin Saravanan
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 102 minutes