Aval‘s strengths lie in its wonderful frames. The setting is picturesque, almost too lovely for horror, but that’s really what director Milind Rau plays with. The hauntingly beautiful quality of the locales, or the effect lent to them on the post-production table, a palette of blue, grey, and red for contrast may perhaps sound a little too pedestrian for this genre, but boy does it set the tone. A little settlement in Himachal Pradesh, surrounded by the mighty, almost ominous-looking mountains is where Aval takes place.
A young couple – one of them a neurosurgeon (Siddharth) – welcomes new neighbours, a family of five, whose house is the abode of a sinister something. Things shatter, doors bang, apparitions are seen, and a young girl (Anisha Victor as Jennifer) seems possessed. Siddharth flits in and out of his neighbour’s home, much to the chagrin of his wife (Andrea Jeremiah), and to the delight of Jennifer who has a tendency to take near-suicidal walks, and seems always on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The most chilling moment in the movie belongs to her. As the malefic spirit of a woman who’d lost her child, she lets out a grief-stricken, almost feral cry, which, when amplified at sound-designing – passes well above the threshold for human tolerance of high-pitched sounds. Thanks in part to Dolby Atmos too, of course.
If there’s something that you wish that horror movies don’t do, it’s confine themselves within the cozy, familiar comforts offered by a haunted house and other related paraphernalia. But, movie after movie, a haunted bungalow after haunted bungalow (with stylish flooring and décor in this case), never fails to lure the filmmakers. It probably calls out to them as Vijayalalitha does to Jaishankar here:
Aval also has a fiery cross in place to add character. There are also stray mentions of ‘Friday the 13th’, the holy Bible, ‘The Exorcist’, and other props to create mood, but those are just inconsequential at best and obsolete at worst. For the camera not only captures the sleepy loveliness that the locale exudes, it also lends itself over to the still mountain regions, terrifying in its allure. In a particular frame, a dark forest is flanked by hills on either side. A neon jeep breaks the near perfect symmetry. Aval opens to a moment back in time, a Chinese mother and her young daughter in the wilderness, the house looming large – set to a sweet, chilling lullaby.
It is, as the the director had intended, unadulterated horror for some time, until it succumbs to conventional tropes of the genre. What seems to be a good tale of haunting despite the hills and the house and the exorcism and the babies, soon turns into a story about witchcraft, the hills, the house, the exorcism and the babies. The title too, isn’t uncommon. Pronouns, by and large, lend an air of sinister foreboding to a horror film, and here, it’s no different. Except for the gender perhaps.
The Aval review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.