Ezra, directed by Jay K and starring Prithviraj Sukumaran, is the latest in a line of Malayalam horror films trying to buck the trend of the old woman-in-white, Yakshi’s revenge type of horror films of the past. It’s an admirable attempt that succeeds, for the most part, in creating an atmospheric horror film.
The story itself is nothing new. It’s a haunted house story. You know the one – a young couple move into a new neighbourhood. Into an improbably spacious house full of creaky hallways, noisy attics etc. They acquire a strange and beautiful box which once belonged to the last Jewish man in Kerala. The box turns out to be a Dybbuk box containing a… well, Dybbuk.
There are some clever ideas here. Dybbuks are completely new to our audience. The tone and pacing are consistent throughout the film, not to mention a good soundtrack, careful sound design, and great set design. The haunted house is spooky without coming across as an obvious set.
Unfortunately, all this draws more attention to the film’s many problems. And they keep Ezra from being a really good horror film. As much as I’d like to give this movie a pass for trying something different and mostly pulling it off, the problems are too frustrating
The film tries to scare the audience more than the characters. A good horror film makes us care about the characters and then puts them in danger. We are afraid because we don’t want these characters to suffer. Mediocre horror films can’t get us to care about the characters and instead chooses to scare the audience with loud noises in dark hallways. Even when it makes no sense. Why don’t they just turn on the light?
There are too many jump scares that make no sense. For instance, there’s one where the maid, standing off-screen, suddenly takes a packet of milk from our hero. It’s a jump scare accompanied by a sudden loud noise. The only problem is our hero can see the maid. She’s standing right in front of him. Just because she’s not in the frame doesn’t mean the characters in the movie can’t see her.
Not to mention objects flying at the camera when the characters are not around (because the Dybbuk knows the audience is watching, I guess), entire characters who seem important and completely disappear halfway through the film, or the fact that even police officers buy the Dybbuk’s existence without question. And the dialogue is of the “as you know” variety. And yes, flashbacks to scenes that happened five minutes ago.
Ezra is a good attempt but is ultimately more of a haunted house ride than a haunted house movie. It’s the right direction for Malayalam horror films, but we have a long way to go before we have a “Haunting (1963)” or an “Exorcist”.