Darkness Visible review – mystery and murder on the streets of Kolkata

Leslie Felperin

The dialogue is a bit stilted sometimes, and, once all the wrapping is off, the big reveal is slightly silly, but this rare instance of a western-style horror film set in India is an intriguing, largely inventive genre exercise.

Directed by Neil Biswas, and co-written by Biswas and Ben Hervey, it stars Jaz Deo as Ronnie, a London hipster artist of Indian ancestry who celebrates turning 28 in the opening minutes by having sex with his Icelandic rock musician girlfriend (Salóme Gunnarsdóttir). In time-honoured tradition, this moment of pleasure is soon punished by all manner of freaky happenstance, as Ronnie starts bleeding and feels compelled to draw cityscapes of places he’s never been, which of course prove prophetic.

Before long, he finds himself in Kolkata, to where his mother has urgently returned and where she is now in a coma after a car accident. As Ronnie’s quest entwines with a series of murders, he learns that all of the origin stories his mum told him about himself weren’t true.

Biswas and his crew set themselves a tricky task as they strive to underscore Ronnie’s linguistically challenged, culturally confused footing in his mother’s land, forced to rely on the kindness of strange relatives he’s never met and police agents – including an attractive forensic photographer (Sayani Gupta) – he doesn’t know if he can trust. He looks on as squeamish as any prissy, naive westerner at the poverty around him as little kids swarm him for money in the slums, and the whole town feels like a huge twisting alleyway in some kind of perpetual night.

It’s refreshing to see a film set in India that favours such a dark palette of colours instead of the usual supersaturated pops of “spiritual” orange and poverty-porn pink. Even the obligatory jump scares are finessed in such a way as to make the film feel a little different.

• Darkness Visible is released in the UK on 18 October.