The third film in the Welcome to Blumhouse anthology of horror releases to Amazon Studios this month, “Evil Eye” promised to be an interesting genre entry sporting a mostly Indian cast, a unique touch for American cinema in the genre. Directed by Elan and Rajeev Dassani and starring a cast the likes of Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani, “Evil Eye” follows the difficult strain a new relationship puts on a daughter’s connection to her mother after the latter begins to suspect the boyfriend has a dark connection to her past. The result isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense, but rather a product that uses conventional thriller concepts to try and tackle the mother-daughter relationship and modern themes of female empowerment. It doesn’t completely succeed turning out a fairly watchable examination of its human elements but failing to really bring unique or effective thrills or scares along the way.
“Evil Eye” stars Sarita Choudhury as Usha, a woman who suffered an abusive relationship at the hands of her ex-boyfriend who she believes to be deceased. As a result she has become controlling of her daughter Pallavi’s (Sunita Mani) love life. Pallavi lives in the United States and is struggling to find love which is compounded by her mother’s attempts to hook her up with suiters. During one such blind date Pallavi ditches her suiter after she meets a wealthy Indian man named Sandeep (Omar Maskati) and the two quickly become a couple only for Usha to become suspicious of Sandeep seeing similar signs that led to her own abusive relationship. As Usha continues to question Sandeep’s motives her relationship with her daughter becomes strained as Usha becomes paranoid that her daughter may be suffering from the ripple effects of her past.
I’ll be fully honest in saying “Evil Eye” took me a bit to really become invested. Slow moving and layered with cultural themes that may feel too foreign to North American audiences, this requires a mildly open mind to experience otherwise it might be tough for it to hold your attention. It doesn’t help that there’s a very formulaic and frankly predictable story being told here. The basic structure is that Usha tries to get her daughter married to suiters she chooses but when her daughter finds someone on her own Usha’s past scars make her weary and thus she does a complete 180 about her daughter dating resulting in a tense relationship. The overarching idea that Usha’s abusive ex potentially cursed both women provides the horror element of the story as Usha feels paranoid that her daughter is forced to face the same torture she endured. I can easily summarize what worked and didn’t work for me with this film through two different pieces, the story and the themes. The story struggles but the themes are loud, clear and honestly deserving of a better product.
As I said, the story is pretty bland, predictable and slow taking too much time to set up a third act reveal most viewers will probably see coming from a mile away. There’s little real horror involved throughout much of the narrative with the film taking more of a thriller angle by keeping us on edge as we, the viewers, decide for ourselves whether or not Usha is just paranoid or has legitimate concerns. Eventually we’re given an answer making all that suspense feel pointless. I’ll admit the climax brought a different kind of suspense to the table which helped the third act provide payoff to some of the drama and thrills, but overall even putting aside my own admitted cultural ignorance I just had a hard time feeling invested in the film. The twists felt unfulfilling and hollow compared to the potential that seemed to be there and a lack of exploration of some of the more seemingly supernatural elements to explain things left a lot to be desired.
Where the film works though is with it commentary and exploration of its characters’ humanity. All the actors and actresses in this extremely small cast feel completely on board. It’s not their fault the movie is hard to invest in by any means. Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani make the most of the mother-daughter dynamic. With both women living far apart, on different continents no less, we can already understand the distance both literally and figuratively between the two. When a new relationship comes into play that divide becomes even more believable. Usha, who was abused by her ex, wants Pallavi to find love but only with men she approves. When a new person walks in and starts to show the same signs of a potential controlling and abusive nature we can relate to her paranoia. The wedge driven between Usha and Pallavi feels incredibly real and the actresses sell it well making even phone calls where the actresses aren’t in the same room feel genuine and effective. This whole thing builds up to a message about female empowerment and standing up against those who try to oppress you, not men specifically but anyone who tries to keep you down and control you. It’s a powerful message incorporating a culture and ethnicity that more ignorant minds might still associate with female servitude. For better or worse that ignorance could enhance the message for viewers in its own way.
“Evil Eye” isn’t necessarily a bad film, it’s an unsatisfying one depending on what you want to take from it. If you’re looking for effective thrills, horror scares and fun twists this movie doesn’t really hit the mark. It’s not scary, its slow pacing provides for some tension but not enough to keep you engaged, and the final act, while the best part of the movie, suffers from the predictability permeating from the rest of the film. Where “Evil Eye” really succeeds is in its presentation of the mother-daughter dynamic and its themes of female empowerment. The actors are a big part of helping sell these themes and do their best to make up for the poor execution, plus it’s always great to see a a capable cast of minorities incorporated into American cinema. Overall “Evil Eye” is one of those films that feels hard to critique. It’s not something I personally have any interest in watching again but it has enough good qualities to recommend at least one run through. My recommendation: give it a watch and judge it for yourself. It won’t take you long to decide whether this movie is for you or one worth passing over.