“Ezra”… A well-crafted horror film that needed much better writing

Posted on February 23, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Jay K’s Ezra, which is set in Kochi, is filled with Malayalis; the story revolves around Ranjan (Prithviraj) and Priya (Priya Anand). But their domestic help is Maharashtrian, and the large, large house they live in (for once, wouldn’t it be nice if a horror film unfolded in one of those matchbox-sized flats in Mumbai?) belongs to a Gujarati. These characters are Christians and Hindus and Jews. In other words, we find in Ezra a feature found only in some Kamal Haasan films: the characters constitute a microcosm of India.

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But in a Kamal Haasan film, this interconnectedness would add up to something. In Ezra, it’s just a touch. Like the through-the-keyhole shot that announces the presence of something sinister inside an intricately carved chest. We think the thing is a voyeur, or maybe it’s keeping an eye on the world, waiting for the time to make its move. But its moves happen almost by accident. Had Priya not purchased the chest at an antique store, would the creature have possessed someone else (whoever that purchaser was)?

The writing in Ezra leaves a lot to be desired. A 1940s flashback is such a tired rehash of rich-boy-poor-girl clichés, it’s downright embarrassing. You wish the way a priest finds out about the malefic creature was better charted – it happens almost instantaneously, and Ranjan’s buy-in is equally instantaneous. You wish the shot in the present, of a woman hanging from a tree, had been lingered on, so we recall its mirror shot from the past. You wish the exorcism in the climax had been staged in Ranjan’s workplace, where there’s scope for maximum tension, maximum damage.

But let me tell you this. None of this mattered while I was watching the movie. One, the larger plot points – the echo of inter-religious marriage in the past and the present; the reason behind Ranjan’s exotic profession; or even the reason the film (and the horror) begins after the death of Kerala’s last Jew – tie together satisfactorily. And two, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Ezra is exquisitely mounted and photographed.

Jay K begins showboating from the very first frame, where the camera keeps rising from the Star of David emblazoned on a white cloth and slowly reveals a funeral ceremony. A simple shot of a car coming to a halt in front of a cemetery is filmed with Sergio Leone swagger: the camera swoops over the arch at the gates and peers down at the vehicle. The vastness of Ranjan’s house becomes a character of its own, with rooms simultaneously suffused with light and shadow. And it all works because of the genre. The must-haves in horror – things going bump in the night (the sound design is excellent), or an apparition in a mirror, or creaky fans that suddenly begin to whir— are so numbingly familiar that style can become substance.

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Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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