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Domestic Abuse Thriller Evil Eye is Tragically Low on Scares

Blumhouse’s latest Evil Eye taps into the superstition of a malevolent glare to craft a promising thriller about reincarnation and abusive relationships. Too bad the promise is unfulfilled.

The film stars Sunita Mani, known for Netflix’s GLOW, as Pallavi, a woman of Indian descent living in New Orleans. As she embarks on a relationship with wealthy Sandeep (Omar Maskati), she thinks her mother, Usha (Sarita Choudhury), will be over the moon. But Usha is not completely on board with this romance. And she has her reasons: if Sandeep sounds too good to be true, it’s because he is. 

Spoilers for Evil Eye

Based on an audio play of the same name by Madhuri Shekar, Evil Eye is executive produced by Jason Blum and Priyanka Chopra. The film is a beacon of Indian representation in the mainstream horror landscape. This puts in place an operation similar to what Crazy Rich Asians attempted to do for Chinese culture in romcom films in 2018. There is a long tradition of Bollywood horror movies dating as far back as the 1940s, but there hadn’t been a widely distributed, English-language Indian horror before Evil Eye. Netflix attempted to put in place an interesting operation back in January this year with Hindi-language Ghost Stories. The film is an anthology horror that includes an episode about a dysfunctional relationship. However, that chapter quickly turned into a ghost story, whereas in Evil Eye, the menace is very much alive.

Premiered on October 13 on Prime Video, the film by Elan and Rajeev Dassani addresses some of the most well known aspects of Indian culture. The emphasis on finding a good match and the inevitable clashes between different generations and mindsets are apparent in the conversations between Pallavi and Usha, even if they take place mostly over the phone. Evil Eye also manages to be funny, with the comic relief courtesy of Pallavi’s father Krishnan (Bernard White). The performances from the cast, and especially from both Mani and Choudhury, are intense and riveting. Their mother-daughter conflict explodes in a final phone call. That’s when Usha reveals Sandeep is the reincarnation of her abusive ex-boyfriend.

Domestic abuse horrors are having a surge

Much like Netflix teen drama Never Have I Ever, Evil Eye is an interesting window into Indian-American culture. The movie recreates Delhi in New Orleans, fleshing out Pallavi’s parents’ house in an empty basement, thanks to the impressive work from the head of production design, Ryan Martin Dwyer. Outfits and accessories by costume designer Eulyn Colette Hukfie, particularly jewelry, are well researched and take on symbolic relevance. Moreover, the cinematography by Yaron Levy creates a jarring contrast between the bleak New Orleans and India, filtered through a yellowish lens. As the protagonist ignores the many, many red flags Sandeep throws at her, the chromatic divide between her present and her family home becomes more apparent: this relationship is dimming Pallavi’s inner and outer light.

Evil Eye follows in the footstep of a series of recent horror movies portraying toxic relationships. Among these, Midsommar by Ari Aster and The Invisible Man, starring Elisabeth Moss as a woman leaving her abusive partner. Both these movies have something that Evil Eye lacks: they’re able to find genuine horror in unexpected places.

Courtesy of Blumhouse

In Midsommar, the failures in Dani’s (Florence Pugh) toxic relationship are on display in the uncomfortably bright, never-ending daylight. Yet she’s unable to acknowledge them. She tries to salvage her romance by going to Sweden with a boyfriend who clearly doesn’t want her there, neglecting her own needs until it’s too late. The Invisible Man, on the other hand, relies on clever use of negative space to generate terror. Both the protagonist and the audience have no idea when and where danger might strike. The movie renders the dynamics of abusive relationships, with the invisible monster trying to isolate the protagonist from those who love her.

The final scene of Evil Eye

The idea that those in abusive relationships are blind to their toxicity is central to Evil Eye. Pallavi can’t see there’s something wrong with Sandeep, just like her mother couldn’t before her. For the audience, it is far too obvious. Everything is in the open from the start. Sandeep is immediately revealed as the villain who holds Pallavi hostage. The only thing that viewers are afraid of is Usha and Sandeep finally meeting. Yet when they do, there isn’t a big revelation nor a clash: all tension deescalates and drowns in the dialogue. The movie tries to make up for the lack of action in the final fifteen minutes. It delivers an effective, violent confrontation, but it’s not enough to turn this into a memorable horror movie. Despite the supernatural component, Evil Eye would have worked better as a straight-up drama. 

The titular curse plagues Pallavi as well as her mother and, by extension, all women. There is an intent of universalization in the movie, which becomes blatant in the final scene. The curse passes onto the next generation. Gender violence is systemic, and it takes more than getting rid of a few bad apples to save the orchard. This knowledge is more infuriating than it is scary, and so is the movie. It’s a decent film about gaslighting and domestic abuse; it just isn’t as spine-chilling as you would want a horror flick to be.

Evil Eye is streaming on Amazon Prime Video