Discard: Nayanthara, Sathyaraj, Anupam Kher, Vinay Rai
Director: Ashwin Saravanan
Rating: Three stars (out of 5)
A supernatural thriller set in the time of Covid, Ashwin Saravanan Relate has its share of scary jumps as well as other genre tics. But, if you can get over the ritual babble it culminates in, it’s not one of those predictable, hackneyed horror movies that just seek to shock us from our seats.
The screenplay, penned by the husband-wife writing team of Saravanan and Kaavya Ramkumar, alternates between dark and nightmarish. The impact of the range of feelings the film evokes is greatly heightened by the understated and consistent power of Nayanthara’s lead performance.
She shines brightly in a dystopian drama that thrives in the dark. She uses her eyes and facial expressions rather than screams and screams to express fear and apprehension as the stranger creeps up on the sorted, unflappable woman she plays.
Relateproduced by Vignesh Sivan’s Rowdy Pictures and released nationwide in Hindi a week after the release of the original Tamil version, weaves into its story of sickness, death, divinity and the devil a complement of unsettling jolts that are unleashed by a Covid-related tragedy and the daughter’s response to it.
God and Satan are at war in a world torn by sickness and grief. A little girl faces shock. A tormented woman fights to save her daughter. A grandfather offers constant advice online. An electronically connected pastor intervenes in an attempt to exorcise the evil spirit. Amidst all this chatter, the film remains firmly focused on the mother-daughter relationship.
The emotional bond between the two women is upset by a demonic possession. The script uses the disorder as a metaphor for a rampaging and devastating virus. The link between the two is verbalized by the exorcist himself.
With its muffled noises, its persistent knocks at the door, its mysterious rumblings, its fluttering curtains, its flickering lights, its eerie shadows in the dark, its objects knocked over, the works, the 99 minutes Relate put on all the devices one would expect in a horror film. Yet he manages to break at crucial moments from the practices usually associated with the fearsome business of peddling fear and compounding anxieties.
Relatewhich reunites director Saravanan with lead actor Nayanthara after the 2015 neo-noir psychological drama Maya, examines the dimensions of loss and grief through an occult phenomenon that sets off a disturbing chain of events for a quarantined woman, Susan, and her young musician-daughter, Anne.
The pandemic and the lockdown have taken their toll on both. But the nature of the impact on the two is not the same. The mother, for starters, seems completely unfazed by the crisis hitting her – and the world at large. The girl, grievously afflicted, enters a shell, an act that leaves her vulnerable to satanic invasion.
Speaking of invasion, the possession of a human by the devil is similar in Relate to a home invasion by a hostile force from another world. The disease is a demon, and vice versa, and it pushes Anna into an abyss from which only an exorcist can save her.
The two women are in separate rooms, but the changes Anna goes through have repercussions not only throughout the house in which they isolate themselves from the world and from each other, but also in the spaces that Arthur ( Sathyaraj), Susan’s father, and a pastor-exorcist (Anupam Kher) occupies.
Relate is Saravanan’s third directing venture. He established himself as a genre filmmaker with a distinct and innovative style marked by a strong empathy for women who fight harmful forces. In Maya, a single mother who works in commercials to make ends meet is haunted by a ghost.
In Game over (2019), starring Taapsee Pannu, the heroine is a talented game developer struggling with PTSD as a direct result of a gruesome rape.
In Relate, Saravanan portrays two women – one a mid-career professional in a position of authority, the other a gifted young girl eager to pursue a career as a musician. The latter’s youthful rush to diversify creates friction between her and her mother, who is adamant that the girl must complete her education before leaving home to pursue her dream.
Saravanan, with the help of cinematographer Manikantan Krishnamachary, engages visuals, play of light and shadow, skewed camera angles and movements, and sound effects to evoke an atmosphere of great unease and dread. .
The film’s opening scenes, joyous and filled with warmth during a family vacation in Goa, quickly give way to hints of the dangers ahead. The pandemic and the confinement it entails keep Anna’s adored father, Dr. Joseph Benoy (Vinay Rai), away from the family because the hospital needs him to be on call 24/7. .
Characters from now on are unable to make physical contact with each other. They converse on Zoom calls. Restrictions on physical interactions inevitably lead to unnerving distancing and disorientation. The doctor can only communicate with his wife and child through digital means. Anna, the youngest, is the most affected by the sudden forced separation.
Susan and Anna are suspected of being Covid positive. While waiting for their test reports, they isolate themselves in the house while keeping in touch with the girl’s grandfather. Susan and her father soon begin to sense that something is seriously wrong with Anna. They seek help in his name.
Nayanthara’s stellar performance is admirably supported by Sathyaraj and Anupam Kher. Newcomer Haniya Nafisa, cast in the difficult role of a possessed girl, is no less impressive.
When the confrontation between the devout and the diabolic reaches its climax, the tone of the film increases considerably. Relate however, never risks drowning in the strident because at any other time, the director does not deviate from his controlled and hushed methods to tell a story that vacillates between the real and the spectral.
Relate connects with the audience in a substantial way without having to resort to the kind of face-to-face means that horror films typically impose on audiences.
Review: Nayanthara Shines Bright in Dystopian Drama Connect E! News UK