By Rachit Raj

There is so much to appreciate in Kaali Khuhi that it pains you when you see all the promise turning into a pile of disappointments. It is a film that gets a lot of things right, which is why its obsession to embrace the clichés of horror-filmmaking are especially disappointing. Nonetheless, Kaali Khuhi is a flawed but an important addition to the growing genius of Indian horror films.

Set in rural Punjab, Kaali Khuhi is a story of a curse running in a family for decades – The Ghost of the Kaali Khuhi (Black Well). The atmosphere in the village is decidedly foggy, and there is an anxious mist around the silenced, deserted farms to elevate the need for the film to establish its roots in the genre it belongs to. It works, initially. Sejal Shah’s bleak, ominous, camerawork helps in ensuring that the film gets its roots right.

The premise is simple. A young family of three goes to their ancestral village to be by the side of the ailing grandmother. The father (Satyadeep Mishra) is the unassuming patriarch who insists on staying in the village for inexplicable reasons. The daughter, Shivangi (Riva Arora), becomes the centre-stage of all the terrifying happenings, while a maasi (Shabana Azmi) becomes the all-knowing link between the gothic legend and the urban family that finds itself in the middle of this crisis.

Like a lot of other recent horror films in India, Kaali Khuhi comes with a message. An earnest message about female infanticide, reflecting that our accepted, normative reality is more horrific than a supernatural ghost lurking around a well. This is an interesting shift from the Hollywood jump-scare horror, and at best a one-time viewing experience.

The problem with Kaali Khuhi is its inability to commit to a certain brand of genre filmmaking. It aims to be what Tumbbad was (a climax shot of a breathing womb quickly reminds you of the brilliance of Tumbbad), but also does not want to detach itself from the propagated clichés of horror – a ghost behind the mirror, creaking doors, blood-stained books, and some prosthetics to give us a nameless character with a white eye (remember Lal Pari from Laal Kaptaan? Yeah.).

Director Terrie Samundra is not brave enough to create horror that eschews all the necessary beats of a horror film, in the process getting tangled in the prism of predictability, and an inevitable inclination towards an end that is more politically correct than narratively satisfying. If only, Kaali Khuhi could have been a little bolder in its creative choices beyond an impressive premise, this one could have been a winner of a Halloween release. As it turns out, it is nothing more than a missed opportunity.
[Now streaming on Netflix]