REVIEW: “Evil Eye” (2020)

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My long overdue third taste of “Welcome to Blumhouse”, Amazon’s eight film collaboration with horror producer Jason Blum, is “Evil Eye” from co-directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani. Once again exploring the shared theme of “family and love as a redemptive or destructive force”, this film shows off some good ideas which separate it from the others (so far). At the same time it’s hurt by a paper-thin story that stretches about 45 minutes worth of material into a 90 minutes feature film.

At the heart of “Evil Eye” is a mother/daughter relationship that will undoubtedly resonate with many woman (it did with my wife). Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is a 28-year-old woman living in New Orleans. Her mother Usha (Sarita Choudhury) still lives in New Delhi, India. The two are very close and talk on the phone nearly everyday. The film does a good job developing their relationship through these across-the-world conversations. It also makes sense narratively considering the movie is an adaptation of playwright Madhuri Shekar’s Audible audio drama (Shekar also wrote the film’s screenplay).

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Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Usha first comes across as a bossy meddling mom especially as she lovingly hounds her daughter about getting married. So you would think she would be happy when Pallavi meets her Mr. Perfect, a handsome young entrepreneur named Sandeep (Omar Maskati). Instead she’s quickly suspicious of her daughter’s new beau and his motivations. Her forbearing husband Krishnan (Bernard White) tries to dissuade her from ruining their daughter’s newfound happiness. But Usha grows increasingly convinced that there are some really bad vibes surrounding Sandeep.

A frustrated Pallavi first chalks it up to her mom’s silly superstition. But when Usha shares that she believes Sandeep is some supernatural evil from her past, her sanity is brought into question and her relationship with Pallavi reaches it breaking point. The whole mother/daughter dynamic is the film’s biggest strength, with both Choudhury and Mani maneuvering the emotional complexities with a relatable and heartfelt authenticity.

Unfortunately there’s still a lot of space to fill and sadly it’s not nearly as satisfying. The romance between Pallavi and Sandeep is sweet but soapy and sometimes bogged down by made-for-TV melodrama. Some scenes work but others fall flat, failing to meaningfully move the romance forward. More of the running time could have been spent digging into the characters and building more than just a surface level attraction. Or more time could have been spent on Usha’s past trauma, something that ends up playing a significant part in the story. Instead we get most of it through brief flashbacks that piques our interest only to have it deflated by a rather unremarkable reveal.

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Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

And couldn’t more be done with the New Orleans setting? Not only is it a place full of its own rich personality, but it too has a wealth of superstitions and spiritual folklore. Instead it’s given no attention whatsoever. In fact you would never guess the location if its name wasn’t stamped on the screen during the opening. Contrast that with the images of Delhi which capture its cultural significance to the story. Perhaps it’s not a big deal, but when a movie struggles to fill its running time, you can’t help but notice the missed opportunities.

Still, there are things to admire about “Evil Eye” – its attention to diversity, how it taps into Indian culture and tradition, Choudhury and Mani’s strong mother/daughter chemistry. At the same time its flaws are equally noticeable, most notably its lack of 90 minutes worth of story. To the filmmakers credit they stretch it as far as they can. But I found my mind wandering as I waited for the inevitable twist. You know, the ones that have come with every “Welcome to Blumhouse” film so far. “Evil Eye” is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

2-stars

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Evil Eye” (2020)

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