Prosit Roy’s Pari is the kind of horror that gags and chokes you with an incipient dread. But only up to a point. The setting is a rainy, wet Kolkata; a beautiful inscrutable woman Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma) is being hunted down by a group of cruel men; there are inexplicable unearthly presences; a strange, grotesque cult ; its equally cryptic opponents; an evil force whose menace you can’t see but only hear in the rasping sound of his breath and a kind, young man Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee), possibly the only “normal” one around.
Roy builds a relentless feel of doom, the lobs of fear broken only briefly with tiny interludes of romance. There’s a terrible sense of oppressiveness that makes you want to run away to grab some fresh air, yet it’s enough to intrigue you to want to stay on. Yes, there are many jump scares (can we ever escape them) but Roy does well in creating a suffocating atmosphere, invests some ordinary objects and creatures with a significant, pivotal eerieness, be it incense sticks, a bucket of water, an artificial eye, a tube of Boroline cream, a nailcutter, the cartoons on the TV or the dogs on the street. I am never going to look at them the same way again. A nailcutter sequence and one involving the pet neighbourhood dog almost left me with a myocardial infarction.
Sadly, Roy is not able to sustain it. Halfway through the film, when he explains it all, the essential horror vanishes. What you are left holding on to thereafter are some gimmicky, supernatural sequences and gory revenge and retribution scenes.There are familiar tropes from a clutch of horror films–Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Richard Donner’s The Omen, Gehrayee by Aruna-Vikas. But Roy takes them away from the usual Christian and Hindu backdrops and places them in some fictional Muslim occult.
There’s plenty of interesting stuff happening in the head of the filmmaker. For one there’s a compelling character at the centre, a woman trying to grapple with the split within herself (and Anushka Sharma does well with role); then there’s the obfuscation of the duality between the good and the bad–that there’s the possibility of humaneness in the devil and the humane may at times veer towards the devil. But Roy makes it all too literal complete with a righteous, virtuous take on pregnancy and abortion. In an effort to find a neat closure (when he could have tried to make a Omen-like franchisee out of it), the director spins out a clumsy climax. Wish he had left a lot more unsaid and unresolved.