Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ragini MMS (2011)

The couple of Uday (Raj Kumar Yadav) and Ragini (Kainaz Motivala) are going on a trip to a place owned by a friend of Uday's in the country for a romantic weekend, or really, to get rid of Ragini's pesky virginity. What Ragini doesn't know: Uday doesn't just act like a sleazy prick most of the time, he has also agreed to help a movie producer friend of his to secretly make a sex tape, so the house is full of hidden cameras ready to turn the unknowing Ragini into a very special kind of celebrity. He's a charmer, Uday is.

Things conspire against Uday's plans, though. First, Ragini's friend Pia (Janice) and her boyfriend Vishal (Rajat) appear at the mansion in an obvious attempt at what I think is called cockblocking among experts. Then, once they've disappeared, the actual owner of the house makes herself known. Turns out the place is haunted by the ghost of a woman who wasn't a witch and didn't kill her children, and she's loathe to have guests. Uday doesn't take well to the haunting, and soon Ragini finds herself alone with a dead (asshole) boyfriend and an angry ghost. Oh, and she's cuffed to a bed with sex toy handcuffs.

By 2011 - or perhaps earlier, but I couldn't find anything about that - the POV/found footage horror wave had obviously reached India, resulting in this Hindi production directed by Pawan Kripalani. The film's sex video set-up provides the opportunity to not just have the usual hand-held shaky cam but to also use quite a few well-placed static cameras, particularly inside the bedroom where much of the film takes place.

The set-up does of course also provide another, different, opportunity, namely for quite a few scenes of very coy sleaze. That sort of thing rubs badly against the things allowed to be shown in Indian movies, and those that aren't, so what the film sells as sleaze, we around here call heavy cuddling. I'd rather wish the film had foregone the not-really-sleaze completely, for as it stands, it's neither really titillating, nor all that relevant beyond providing the film with an excuse for having more than one camera working at any given time. More negatively, its approach to its sleazy contents puts Ragini MMS very much into the group of exploitation movies that never gets around to doing anything interesting or subversive with its sleaze beyond the usual schizophrenic wagging of its finger at things it is only to happy to show in as much detail as it can get away with (which isn't much).

The ineffective sleaze drags the film's early pacing down considerably, too. The early lack of excitement is not improved by the lackluster style of the ghost's first attacks, nor by the coy use the film makes of it. It's rather typical for that part of the film that the usual "food turns creepy-crawly" scene is shot so ineffectively not even a hater of centipedes and their ilk like me felt very yucked out once it happened; other "shocks" are equally deserving of apostrophes.

Consequently, I was already mentally writing a "the same procedure as always" assertion of boredom. But then something rather wonderful happens once Ragini has been lovingly handcuffed by Uday (don't be kinky, virgins!), and Uday has been dispatched by the ghost - the remaining half hour of film turns into an effective tour de force where every seeming success of our heroine to free herself from her rather horrible situation is countered by further escalation from the ghost who suddenly isn't as harmless and boring as before anymore. Even better, while the situation Ragini finds herself in is of course rather contrived, Kripalani plays it with such earnestness and a sudden talent for creating tension and a feeling of dread, that it never feels contrived. On paper, nothing that happens is new to any even mildly experienced viewer of horror, but its execution is so well-timed this stops being a problem at all.

Motivala, who up to that point was mostly spending her time with looking "innocent yet sexy" (oh, the minds of exploitation directors), also rises to the occasion, embodying just the right mix of believable terror and determination to make it impossible not to root for her. She's also a particularly good screamer. That might sound a little glib, but a really believable scream of terror and frustration by an actress (or an actor, of course) can improve the impression a scene of horror makes considerably.

The same can be done by an excellent final thirty minutes for an up to that point charmless film, as Ragini MMS proves.

No comments: