The sound of frustration
There’s one point that the makers of Aaaah seem to have fatally overlooked. True fear is induced by the unknown, the incomprehensible… the groping in the dark. Real dread is caused by the seeming inexplicability of strange happenings, and lies squarely in the sense of foreboding that is so inherent to successful horror films such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Others and even the recent The Conjuring; all these films take their time to develop characters with great care before finally revealing the malevolent presence. The moment you see the physical manifestation of the ghost, your fear becomes less intense, as the dread of the unknown always gets mitigated by the calming influence of knowledge. Aaaah, an anthology of five short horror films, doesn’t understand this, and throws ghost after ghost at you, in expectation that you will scream when each one — the one in a haunted boat, the one in a haunted hospital room, the one in a haunted ATM, you get the idea — is shown. After the first ghost, you simply lean back with your popcorn, and the only horror you feel is when you realise it’s getting over — the popcorn, I mean.
While short horror films may admittedly not provide the liberty of time in which to create an atmosphere around the ghost, there’s little excuse for the mediocrity of each story. They are just not clever enough. Each of the five stories has the main character (played by Gokulnath, Meghna and Bala Saravanan) trying to capture in film the existence of a ghost, so they can win a bet with their rich friend Prosper (Bobby Simha) and, with it, half his assets valued at Rs. 60 crore (don’t even ask). So, our friends travel from place to place in order to videotape paranormal occurrences, and even when they succeed in doing so early in the film, Prosper refuses to accept the legitimacy of the video, forcing them to visit other haunted places. You don’t understand why these friends continue to believe that they can convince Prosper, especially after his arrogant dismissal of their first video. It just doesn’t make sense, and when the main premise connecting all the stories seems unconvincing, it sort of pulls the entire film down with it.
All the five stories are rather dull. Walk into a boat, and bam, the ghost appears. Walk into a hospital, and bam. Walk into an ATM, and bam. You almost wonder why these characters aren’t tempted to shake hands with ghosts, used as they are to seeing them regularly. There are two stories that are a bit different from the rest (the one in Dubai and the one on the highway). While the former isn’t scary at all and has a laughable chase sequence with the ghost flying in pursuit of a car (‘Arjunaru Villu’ from Ghilli could have been appropriate here), the latter reminds you of Yavarum Nalam.
A good horror film, more than other genres, needs a good actor to look convincingly horrified by, usually, a green screen. You see this when guest actor M. S. Bhaskar carries the ATM short story on his shoulders, but even there, the writing puts paid to his performance.
There’s no meaningful thread that connects the short stories of the film, and at the end, I found myself apathetic to the fates of the main characters. The inconsistent writing doesn’t help either. A dead man towards the end is ignored by his girlfriend, and within minutes, she comes back to claim the body. Why the change of heart? Your guess is as good as mine.
The failure of this film to rouse any real fear or keep you invested in it is such a pity, as you really want such small films to succeed. I suppose it’s too much to expect every small horror film to be a Pizza.