Writer-director Sidharth Srinivasan’s Kriya intelligently inhabits two familiar horror setups: first, the unease of a mysterious seduction; and second, the narrative of the hapless outsider venturing into an unknown world (whose horrors, ultimately, turn out not to be so unfamiliar after all). The story kicks into motion when the protagonist, a DJ named Neel, hooks up with a mysterious woman named Sitara after he finishes his nightclub set. Sitara brings him to her family mansion under the auspices of offering a private place to have sex, but she has other intentions — she wants him to fill the patriarchally customary male role of performing her dying father’s last rites.
Structurally disorienting and mystifying, the film wades from there into a densely-plotted nightmare whose dealings with familial secrets, sexuality, and mortality almost invoke a riff on nineteenth century English Gothic conventions. This is no standard Gothic entry, though. Srinivasan’s interests are pointed and culturally specific: the director mines fear from his contentions with Hindu fundamentalism and religiously-situated misogyny, ultimately locating horror within the protagonist’s own repressed anteriority. Srinivasan’s impressive aesthetic intuitions support these tonal and thematic foundations, beginning by immediately showcasing a vibrantly strobe-lit and colour-soaked club seduction sequence between Neel and Sitara. Cinematographers Lakshman Anand and Karan Thapliyal maximize atmospheric locations, drawing first on the ominous nighttime setup before finding unsettling potential in the brightly daylit final act. The images are haunting and gorgeous.
Srinivasan engages thoughtfully with the interplay between sex and death, one of the horror genre’s most deeply-seated fixations. The writer-director amplifies the tension of Neel and Sitara’s prematurely canceled tryst, and he simultaneously imbues the family death rituals with beautiful mysticism and terribly sexist subjugation. The emphasis here, on repression and relief, overlays the film’s erotic/morbid undercurrent. Unlike too many contemporary films in the genre, Kriya does not pull all its punches. This is, in itself, a novelty: a contemporary horror film that generally opts against bluffing and vague gesturing, aiming instead for a frank and socially confrontational approach. Shot on a limited budget and schedule, Kriya presents an ambitious filmmaker with impressive instincts, delivering an excitingly unique vision.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2020 — Dispatch 4.