‘Betaal’ Review: Oversimplified And Stuffed With Gore And Jump Scares, It Lacks Genuine Anticipation

*wards off the series with turmeric, salt, and ash*

If you are someone who is an ardent lover of the zombie genre and willing to watch anything with gore, then the latest Netflix presentation, the zombie thriller Betaal has both in plenty. But if you are hunting for an entrancing story between all the hanging guts and failed attempts to entwine different themes, then good luck finding something that doesn’t exist.

Long before, Betaal had even released, the excitement around it was palpable. Not because it was co-produced by Shah Rukh Khan‘s Red Chillies Entertainment and Blumhouse Television (Sinister and the Insidious series). The major limelight was that it was directed and written by Patrick Graham of the Radhika Apte starrer horror series, Ghoul. 

But after watching the 4 episodes of Betaal, you will realize that in an attempt to make his zombie thriller stand apart, Graham ended up serving a not-so-thrilling thriller that does nothing but sticks to cliches- gore, jump scares, and a half-assed attempt to rope in Indian folklore. ‘Cause if you remove them all, the bare story is- the undead attack out of nowhere and the living, the few that survive, are forced to seek what they think is a safe space, followed by some becoming zombie-chow for the survival of 2-3 key characters.

And the only things Graham could think of to make Betaal different is by stuffing it with complex theories of neo-colonialism, corruption with the exploitation of tribals, how greed is above principles for some, and while some breathe their last fighting for their values. Sounds goods, but on screen, it’s a hotch-potch as no idea is explored to its fullest. 

Betaal enfolds in the tribal Nilja village, somewhere in central India where exists a haunted closed tunnel in Betaal mountain, where it is believed that an East India Company regiment was buried around 1857 during the Indian Rebellion when their colonel captured the Betaal and turned his men into the undead army. 

But then a greedy contractor Mudhalvan (Jitendra Joshi) and corrupt Commandant Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai) the chief of the Baaz squad, CIPD (Counter Insurgency Police Department) break open the tunnels and the horror within is unleashed. 

Now it is up to the head of the squad, Vikram Sirohi (Viineet Singh), aided by Deputy Commandant Ahluwalia (Aahana Kumra), to ensure the safety of those who survived the army of undead zombies, who…wait for it…have guns with archaic bullets and all our protagonists, running out of bullets, have is a blend of turmeric, salt, and ash to ward off the evil intent on ripping out their guts. 

We agree that there are a couple of solid scares, heartbeat-raising sound effects, prosthetics, and oh, the spooky opening and closing sequences. But logic takes a nosedive frequently- a fat book, filled archaic drawings and cursive writings, practically kills the suspense by essentially telling what will happen next, those infected hold on to their senses long enough to narrate the story of the regiment in a raspy voice, the possessed or attacked victims’ hair turn white and the explanation being “Yeh shock se hua hoga”

True, we are in shock too. By that logic, every Netflix viewer should probably have no single black hair left as the steady stream of bad content (debarring a few gems) on the platform is pretty shocking to those who had been relying on it to sail through the lockdown.

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