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One of the stranger side effects of life in the age of COVID-19 is that the way we watch life depicted in movies has changed. Some of it is small things – like mentally tsk-tsking any time you see two characters shake hands – but far more significant is the impact of certain themes. Stories about illness have a more upsettingly overt relationship with the zeitgeist, as do stories about isolation and paranoia. Films made before the existence of the novel Coronavirus can take on an unexpected and unintended relevance.
Elan and Rajeev Dassani’s Evil Eye proves to be a textbook example of this phenomenon. If released at any other time it would unfold as average thriller with a so-so premise, but the fact that the key relationship at the center of the story is a remote one, with parents and their adult child virtually connecting from opposite ends of the Earth, provides a particular germaneness that only serves to enhance the audience’s connection with the characters.
The titular Evil Eye in the film is a reference to the nazar worn on a bracelet by the story’s protagonist – a young Indian-American woman named Pallavi (Sunita Mani) living in New Orleans. The charm was given to her by her mother, Usha (Sarita Choudhury) as a means of warding off malevolence, and also serves as a metaphor of sorts for the matriarch’s role in Pallavi’s life. Though Usha and Pallavi’s father, Krishnan (Bernard White), live in Delhi, India, she is constantly reaching out to her daughter, most often to hound her about not being married.
Taking matters in to her own hands, Usha decides to set Pallavi up on a date, but this move has unexpected results. Usha’s hand-picked potential husband winds up running late, and Pallavi meets an attractive stranger named Sandeep (Omar Maskati). The two quickly fall for each other, their relationship moving rapidly. Unfortunately, Usha is hesitant to approve, and while her daughter believes this is because of spite, the truth is tied into a secret that has been kept from Pallavi her entire life.
Usha and Pallavi being so close emotionally but distanced physically has an interesting impact.
The mother-daughter bond in Evil Eye serves as both the film’s emotional heart and greatest source of tension, and it is ultimately the most intriguing aspect. It’s an atypical setup, with Pallavi and Usha spending very little time occupying the same room, but the authenticity in the writing and the performances easily jumps that barrier. You feel that they’ve had the same fight a thousand times, and also that they care deeply about one another, and that’s what allows the drama in the narrative to fully function.
As for the atypical setup itself, audiences’ experiences from the last seven months are going to allow them to relate to Pallavi and Usha’s situation on a deeper level. Those who haven’t been able to spend time with their loved ones will understand the strain and frustration that comes with only being able to communicate virtually, and it heightens your investment in the mother-daughter relationship even as the story gets increasingly specific to the characters’ circumstances.
Evil Eye has an interesting story to tell, but it’s also pretty basic.
Obviously the remote relationship is a special twist, but beyond that Evil Eye is a pretty average affair. While there is an appreciated cultural specificity to the story that provides a fresh angle, the central conflict of a mother not approving of the man her daughter is dating is covered terrain, and there isn’t a great deal that this specific narrative adds to that history. While I won’t be revealing it here for anti-spoiler reasons, the secret teased earlier shouldn’t be over-hyped, as it’s not exactly a revelation that will leave you aghast or horrified.
On that note, Welcome To The Blumhouse audiences should go in knowing that Evil Eye is closer to The Lie than Black Box or Nocturne in that it plays more like a thriller than a full-blown horror film, even though it does engage with the supernatural. And even within that the scary material is primarily reserved for the second half of the story, with the first 45 minutes being much more engaged with the romantic drama side of things. It remains apropos for the spooky season, but the prime viewers it’s aimed at are those who appreciate the fringes of the genre rather than the fanatics.
Evil Eye is certainly watchable, featuring engaging characters, strong relationships, and solid drama, but it’s also missing an edge that would allow it to be more than the basic movie it is. Those watching theWelcome To The Blumhousetitles each week this month won’t be overly disappointed or bored (and it’s a well-paced, brisk 90 minute watch), but many will be left wishing that there was just a bit more to it.