A beautiful woman picks up a DJ from a bar one night. She takes him back to her family home, where they discover the woman’s father has died. Through the rest of the night as the family mourns and goes through their rituals, the DJ is dragged down a strange path of magic and evil.
Coming all the way from India, Fantasia International Film Festival brings Kriya to Canadian audiences. Writer and director Sidharth Srinivasan (Divine Vision, Soul of Sand) delivers an unsettling supernatural thriller. The film opens in a nightclub where we meet the DJ, Neel, and a beautiful woman named Sitara. She lures Neel back to her large, albeit decrepit family home where the rest of Sitara’s family has already begun mourning her father. Despite a cold reception from Sitara’s mother, Neel keeps succumbing to Sitara’s wishes and staying to help with the burial rituals. Throughout the course of this single night, Neel experiences increasingly bizarre supernatural occurrences. Everything lends to a constant state of dread that only gets worse and worse leading up to the shocking final moments of the film.
Kriya is fascinating for those not familiar with Indian customs, but that lack of knowledge could also be a detriment. I personally always love learning about different cultures, even through the lense of horror films. Yet, when it comes to the plot of Kriya, it feels like audience members might not get what is off about these funerary practices. By not understanding the warning signs, some of the suspense and terror the filmmaker intended to convey is lessened. It is still a fascinating watch, but it might leave some viewers feeling as if they weren’t in on the secret behind the film. It’s also hard to believe, no matter how polite Neel wanted to be, that he wouldn’t just leave. He just met Sitara and owes her nothing so it seems unlikely he would stick around, even with the promise of sex.
Each cast member brings depth and layers to their character, but two stand out. The first is Noble Luke making his debut as Neel. Luke is great at making Neel come across as a kind and caring man. Yet the final act of the film is when we really get to see what Luke can do and he delivers quite a memorable performance. Navjot Randhawa (Mehsampur, The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs) plays the alluring Sitara. Sitara uses her good looks to get her way with Neel, but Randhawa shows a more malevolent side of the character that is always just beneath the surface and eventually comes out for all to see. Both Randhawa and Luke have great chemistry on screen, even when the night takes a strange and terrifying turn.
This film utilizes many stunning visuals in order to generate and maintain the sense of fear. Sitara’s family home is in a remote area and seems to be in disrepair. The production design of the crumbling walls and sparsely decorated rooms create an eerie feel. This also makes the people within those rooms the true focus of the film. It’s the production design of Unearth that creates the first feeling of unease. Then that feeling increases with the performances and the inclusion of small details in the background that reveal shocking revelations.
Kriya tells a fascinating and disturbing tale about funeral rituals and family secrets. Srinivasan does a great job of including many layers to the mystery, each one more deadly than the last. The viewing experience would likely benefit from more cultural context, but the film is still a compelling watch. From the performances to the setting, every aspect of the film comes together to create the feeling of tension and dread. It’s a dread that sticks with you even after the film ends.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10