Film Review – Evil Eye
The last of the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series is the thriller Evil Eye (2020). Written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Elan and Rajeev Dassani, this might have the most emotional and pressing themes of the four releases. Unfortunately, its ideas are wrapped up in a silly story of love, revenge and the supernatural. The twists and turns are hokey, and the overall tone is melodramatic in a bad way. The narrative is so thin and unremarkable that we begin to forget about it almost as soon as the credits roll. This is the kind of material made for daytime soap operas.
Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is an Indian-American living and working in New Orleans. Her parents Usha (Sarita Choudhury) and Krishnan (Bernard White) moved back to India but have remained close. Pallavi and her parents speak almost every day over the phone. Early on, we learn that Usha is determined to find a suitor for Pallavi, even going so far as to set her up on blind dates. Usha’s enthusiasm to find Pallavi a husband takes a turn when Pallavi meets the handsome Sandeep (Omar Maskati) at a coffee shop. Charming, polite, and wealthy beyond measure, Sandeep checks off all the requirements of a suitable partner for Pallavi.
Usha’s relief that Pallavi has found a boyfriend gradually turns to concern as she learns more about Sandeep. His family background, his money, his personality, the way he carries himself and the way he talks all start to raise red flags for Usha. She is a very superstitious person, and everything she sees in Sandeep gives her no comfort. Usha’s concerns are brushed off by Krishnan and Pallavi as a figment of her wild imagination. As Krishnan points out, “Now that you have nothing to worry about, you have to invent something to worry about.” This does nothing to relieve Usha’s stress, and eventually she becomes convinced that Sandeep is – and I’m not joking – the reincarnation of Usha’s abusive boyfriend who died nearly thirty years earlier. From then on she does everything she can to warn Pallavi that Sandeep is up to no good.
While the premise is far fetched (to say the least), it does point toward the lingering effects of toxic relationships. The trauma of being subjected to an abusive lover doesn’t simply end when the relationship ends. Those bad memories can remain, taking years to get over (if ever). It can seep through a person’s entire life – from the interactions they have with other people to how they treat their children. It’s not surprising to see a parent wanting to keep their child away from danger, but Usha’s suspicions are on a whole different level. Whether or not Sandeep actually is Usha’s abusive boyfriend come back to life is really of minor concern. What’s important is seeing how Usha projects her past experiences onto Pallavi. Usha first wants to choose a husband for her daughter so that she can be certain her choice is the right fit. When Pallavi finds Sandeep on her own, Usha makes an about-face and cautions that she may be going too fast. Some may argue that Usha is acting hypocritically but doing so would ignore what she went through and the reasons why she’s overly protective of Pallavi.
That is the central point of Evil Eye – the exploration of abuse and how it can ripple down through generations. Sadly, everything else falls to the wayside. The plot is non-existent, made up of scene after scene of Usha and Pallavi talking or arguing on their cell phones as Krishnan and Sandeep stand back as bystanders. There is no tangible suspense here, events unfold in a dull fashion. Things pick up in the third act, but only because the narrative decides to enter into full on absurdity, but by then it’s too late. For as committed as Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, and the rest of the cast are with their performances, they could not carry a story that barely goes anywhere in all of its ninety-minute runtime.
Evil Eye reminds me a lot of The Invisible Man (2020). They both feature characters dealing with the emotional damage of an abusive partner. Both delve into some pretty outlandish territory, but the former feels like a generic, bargain bin thriller while the other is one of the best films of the year. What’s the difference? It comes down to cinematic technique. The style and direction of The Invisible Man puts us right into the shoes of the protagonist and has us go through the journey with them. Evil Eye is made with a flat, sterile method that always keeps us at arms’ length. Is it fair to compare the two? Maybe not, but I made it because the topics raised in Evil Eye are important to discuss. It’s a shame the movie doesn’t give us the opportunity to do that.