The essential characteristic of ‘spirit’ is that it is something abstract and doesn’t have any specific shape and form, right? Can a spirit/ghost really assume a tangible form? One of the biggest strengths of Spielberg’s JAWS was that until very late in the film we never actually see the shark, something we know is real but is portrayed in the film as a mythical entity. We only see the effect its existence has on the idyllic town, and the effect is chilling. And mind you, that wasn’t even a horror film. The idea of a ‘ghost’ in the latest offering from the Vikram Bhatt school of horror filmmaking, self-referentially titled as Horror Story, is something that is ambivalently both physical and abstract. The ghost in this film requires a material source to draw energy from in order to remain (gulp) alive. Near the film’s ending when a character tries to set on fire the source of energy (a shock machine) to kill the ghost, the ghost instead of, say, hypnotizing or possessing the person; throws physical objects at the character to prevent her from reaching the machine. And since the ghost isn’t Yuvraj Singh, misses the throw. The ghost needs transducers to communicate with its victims (in one of the many screenwriting masterstrokes of this film; the ghost, after her victims learn her backstory and reckon that perhaps she needs their help to free her trapped spirit, makes a phone call to one of them clarifying that all she wants is to kill them.) In short, the film’s idea of a ghost isn’t something omnipresent and omnipotent, it’s merely another species horror with Ajay Devgn-esque teeth resembling archetypal Harinam Singh or Kanti Shah antagonists that comes with its own set of limitations and vulnerabilities.
But these elements aside, the film bears abundant fleeting allusions to THE SHINING. The story take place in a desolate hotel, there’s a reference to the Room 237 scene involving a similar room and an incident inside it involving a bathtub, the cyclic paradoxical geography of the hotel refers to the climactic maze in the Kubrick picture and the ghost’s backstory probably harks back to Hotel Overlook’s ambiguous history. But for what tends to be a classical horror film, the characters here are so, for the lack of a better word, stupid that it’s hard to take them seriously. These are a bunch of obnoxious rich kids who use “guys” in every other sentence and at one point in the film, a charcter exclaims “WTF man!”, as in, he actually utters “Doublyoo-Tee-Eff man!”. The ghost (Maya) leaves signboards for so she can direct each of the characters to a favourable spot and kill them one by one, and the unsuspecting protagonists merrily fall into the overtly obvious traps. A nurse (there used to be a mental institution on the very plot of land before this hotel was built, you see) with a visible aura around here clearly indicating that she isn’t real, tells one the protagonists that the doctor can now see him, and he happily follows.
Early on, when the friends debate on whether or not to visit the hotel (they have heard the rumour that the hotel and is haunted, and decide to go in just for thrills) the dialogue constantly presents saner counter-arguments to those in favour of the visit, but are disposed off. While that establishes a severe disconnect between the viewer and the characters which could have worked in favour of a more subversive film aside, the film takes a regressive stand on the existence of ghosts while presenting reasonable arguments (the typical “Jise dekha hi nahi usme vishwas kaise karein?”) and then making a creepy bearded uncle denounce them by saying “Jab dekhoge tab maanne ke liye bachoge hi nahi.”
The ludicrous writing aside, the director’s treatment gives rise to some genuinely chilling moments. When the group tries to get out of the hotel after one of the friends is killed, the moment of frenzy is scored with loud background score. The glass door wouldn’t open, obviously the ghost is controlling it. A character picks a wooden chair lying nearby and throws it at the door to get to damn thing to open, the camera slowly pulls back, the loud background score from a few moments ago makes way for dead silence, there’s no slow-motion used to emphasize the point and in a real-time shot we see the chair vanishing mid-air. The camera continues to move away from them and we see them through the adjacent glass doors; the moment continues to be accentuated by cold, dreary silence. It’s a truly scary moment of myth-making where the director knows that it’s not the hammering music that’s going to scare the viewer but the bleak matter-of-fact nature of this absurd moment that follows the frenzy.
But alas, such moments are few and far between. The plot is heavily generic and derivative. Last year’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS comes to mind, but that film came with a postmodernist sensibility and the intention was never to follow the genre, but to subvert it. Horror Story too is a crass story about silly characters, but it takes every overwrought horror film cliché and instead of acknowledging the sillines of it all, exploits them to mask the ridiculousness of its proceedings. It’s a comedy that takes itself too seriously.view less