Producer: Ian Watermeier and Nina Anand Aujla Directors: Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani Screenplay: Madhuri Shekar Cast: Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, Omar Maskati, Bernard White, Anjali Bjimanti, Rachel Cora Wood, Ramesh Reddy, Lena Clark, Satya Polisetti, Ashish Thapliyal, Natosha Durr, Nupur Charyalu and Asad Durrani Distributor: Amazon Studios
In another movie opening this week, we’re informed that karma can be a bitch. So, it appears from “Evil Eye,” can reincarnation. That’s the lesson taught by the thriller adapted by Madhuri Shekar from her Audible original (which substituted phone calls for the letters employed in old-fashioned epistolary novels) and directed by Indian-American twin brothers Elan and Rajeev Dassani.
In a plot that jumps back and forth between India and the United States, Sarita Choudhury plays Usha, a doting—some would say nagging—mother living with her supportive but skeptical husband Krishnan (Bernard White) in Delhi. She’s in constant touch with her daughter Pallavi (Sunita Mani), who lives in New Orleans; the girl is nearing thirty and remains unmarried, a tragedy in Usha’s view. And she seems unimpressed with the eligible bachelors her mother arranges dates with.
Pallavi tries to be as accommodating as possible—she’ll meet the men and show proper deference regarding the titular medallion her mother gives her for protection—though, being Americanized, she’s clearly irritated by Usha’s intrusiveness. In fact, she’s awaiting the arrival of another of her prearranged dates in a coffee shop when she meets Sandeep (Omar Maskati), a rich, handsome fellow who introduces himself when the expected guys doesn’t show. Before long they’re a couple, with Pallavi even choosing to depend on Sandeep financially so she can give up a thankless job to write the novel she’s been long planning.
One might expect Usha to be overjoyed, but she’s not. She’s unnerved by Sandeep, especially after doing traditional astrological scrutiny of his compatibility with Pallavi. She comes to suspect that this ostensibly perfect guy is the reincarnation of an abusive old lover who stalked her after they broke up, with fatal results. After all, a person can’t be reincarnated unless they die—and we’re show what happened in a succession of impressionistic flashbacks.
“Evil Evil” has its effective moments—the first time upset Usha and unctuous Sandeep talk on the phone has a nicely creepy vibe, and the relationship between Usha and the often exasperated Krishnan is niftily sketched. The cultural elements also add a degree of the exotic to the mix, evident in the Delhi scenes fashioned by production designer Ryan Martin-Dwyer and cinematographer Yaron Levy. (The Louisiana sequences, on the other hand, are visually bland.)
Otherwise things do not go so well. Apart from Choudhury and White, the acting is at best pedestrian. Mani can’t invigorate a character who’s basically ready to be manipulated, and Maskati’s attempts to be sinister never develop a truly dangerous tone. A climactic confrontation set in New Orleans, where Usha has come for a face-to-face visit, is clumsily handled, with the Dassanis’ direction sloppy and Kristina Hamilton-Grobler’s editing lacking the precision the sequence calls for. A supposedly chilling coda doesn’t make the skin crawl, either. Ronit Kirchman’s score, on the other hand, does add atmosphere.
In the end “Evil Eye” is a thriller with an intriguing premise undermined by flawed execution. It might have been better to let it remain in audio format.