EVIL EYE (2020)

Evil Eye.jpg

Studio:      Blumhouse/Amazon Studios
Director:    Elan Dassani, Rajeev Dassani
Writer:      Madhuri Shekar
Producer:  Ian Watermeier, Nina Anand Aujla
Stars:     Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, Bernard White, Omar Maskati, Anjali Bhimani

Review Score:

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Summary:

A superstitious Indian mother worries her daughter¡¯s new boyfriend is the reincarnation of an abusive man from her past.


Synopsis:     

Review:

30 years ago, an abusive ex-boyfriend violently attacked Usha on a bridge in India. That man died, but Usha¡¯s superstitions regarding the ¡®evil eye¡¯ have her on guard that he could find posthumous ways to keep harming her.

All Usha wants now is for her 29-year-old daughter Pallavi, who lives in New Orleans, to get married. That wish appears well on its way to finally being granted when Pallavi meets Sandeep, who seemingly checks all the boxes for an ideal match. Usha isn¡¯t so sure. She thinks Sandeep could be her abusive ex, reincarnated to continue his terror. Usha¡¯s husband Krishnan and Pallavi both worry Usha¡¯s obsession with astrology has warped her mind. The rest of us can get ready for an Indian-flavored take on the ol¡¯ ¡°anxious person believes something supernatural while everyone else calls her crazy¡± premise.

Written by the same author, ¡°Evil Eye¡± is based on an Audible Original by Madhuri Shekar. It shows. Audio play origins are evident everywhere as the movie must be made up of 95% dialogue and 5% action, although even 5% may be a generous estimate.

The characters in this film talk on their phones more frequently in 90 minutes than I¡¯ve talked on the phone in the last 90 months. Look at this list of conversations that take place remotely, which doesn¡¯t even include instances of browsing photos or calls that go unanswered, which also happens a lot.

  1. Usha calls Pallavi to apply her usual marriage pressure.

  2. Usha calls Pallavi to set up her daughter on a date.

  3. Pallavi texts with a friend while waiting for that date.

  4. Pallavi and Usha discuss post-date disappointment.

  5. Pallavi calls Usha to tell her about Sandeep.

  6. Pallavi calls Usha to set up a Skype call between both sets of parents.

  7. Pallavi calls Usha on her mother¡¯s birthday.

  8. Usha calls Pallavi with concerns about Sandeep.

  9. Krishnan calls Pallavi with concerns about Usha.

  10. Pallavi passes the phone to Sandeep so he and Krishnan can talk about Sandeep marrying Pallavi.

  11. Krishnan passes the phone to Usha so she can talk to Sandeep too.

  12. Unable to reach his wife over the phone, Krishnan calls a family friend when Usha goes momentarily missing.

  13. Usha calls Pallavi to reveal the truth about her past. This scene alone runs over 10 minutes, although it does include a flashback along with a split-screen sequence to make it look like Usha and Pallavi are facing each other.

  14. Pallavi passes the phone to Sandeep so he can reassure Usha.

  15. Sandeep calls to taunt Usha.

  16. Krishnan leaves a voicemail for Pallavi.

  17. Krishnan leaves multiple voicemails for Usha.

I¡¯m well aware that ¡°Evil Eye¡± was first conceived as a spoken drama and takes place in two locations. But focusing on phone calls creates a deeply uninteresting format for telling a story in a visual medium. This is why people are hired for rewrites, particularly with adaptations. ¡°Evil Eye¡± isn¡¯t inherently built to be engaging as a film, and subsequently struggles with its text-to-screen transfer.

Phones also put a bad burden on excellent actors by requiring them to perform against no one more often than not. ¡°Evil Eye¡± touts some top-notch talent. Sunita Mani of ¡°GLOW¡± uses minimal material to mold Pallavi into an affectionate, articulate, intelligent person with convincing capacity to swing from submissively dutiful daughter to assertively independent woman. Sarita Choudhury gets the upper hand in their push-pull relationship. Choudhury has the calmly confident presence of a stern senator or some similarly commanding character. So when she has to sell Usha¡¯s superstitious nature and insistence on Pallavi getting married, she comes off as neither a nag or a loon, but a respectable mother who would just appreciate someone humoring her ¡°old world¡± beliefs once in a while.

Bernard White also impresses as Krishnan. White avoids tropes associated with the ¡®disbelieving husband¡¯ stereotype by expressing honest empathy for his wife¡¯s wellbeing instead of the usual ¡°it¡¯s just your imagination¡± smirk and a hand wave. The way his voice cracks when he pleads with Usha to look at the situation with logic. The resigned sigh he gives when he reluctantly decides to share his fears with Pallavi. White infuses Krishnan with such an abundant amount of compassion, it¡¯s a shame he unceremoniously goes away like every other side character when the plot no longer has a place to put him.

Even though boredom abounds, ¡°Evil Eye¡± takes on tough emotional topics as a family drama. Such scenes are thoughtfully written too. Pallavi heartbreakingly confronts her mother about how Usha¡¯s insistence on finding a husband conflicts with promoting her daughter¡¯s freedom. Krishnan speaks reasonably with his wife when he asks her to step outside her paranoia to objectively examine the damage she may be doing to their family. These people clearly love one another and only have each other¡¯s best interests in mind, which makes their head-butting over Usha¡¯s beliefs all the more wrenching.

Then the movie undermines its poignant ponderings about support systems, the dangers of investing in old wives tales, and learning to let children lead their own lives by doing what everyone knows is coming all along. Being a thriller delivered by Blumhouse, of course Sandeep turns out to really be Usha¡¯s reincarnated evil ex. There never is any other outcome in an ¡°is she insane or is it really happening?¡± scenario.

¡°Evil Eye¡± is only a movie. It isn¡¯t dangerous. But it¡¯s disappointing at best and reckless at worst to essentially imply that Krishnan¡¯s valid concerns and Pallavi¡¯s justified assertions were in error. Krishnan was wrong to worry his wife hadn¡¯t healed properly from her abuse. Pallavi was wrong to want out from under an overprotective mother. Usha was actually right all along to jeopardize both relationships by committing to a ludicrous concept with no basis in reality. I don¡¯t mean reincarnation in general, but the specific fiction of a sentient madman hijacking another body to torment a past victim.

Until that turn, I appreciated the film¡¯s Indian edge. Insightful cultural details about karma, Buddha, and arranged marriages add uniqueness to ¡°Evil Eye¡¯s¡± standard setup. The movie is made well too, and buoyed by even better acting.

But the message ends up misguided six ways to Sunday. It tells us that horoscopes, amulets, and poppycock can be relied upon even when they instill irrational beliefs that alienate a child, frighten a spouse, and compel someone to define her life around a past trauma. Hanging its hat on that insulting idea cheapens everything positive ¡°Evil Eye¡± previously seemed to say about tolerance, trust, and emotional stability. What a ¡°woof¡± of a way for a film to flame out.

Review Score: 45