SEPTEMBER 8, 2012
The Laemmle theater in West Hills (about 20 minutes north of me, 30 or so north of Hollywood) regularly plays Hindi films, and is seemingly the only theater in that area that does, so I assumed Raaz 3 would be somewhat crowded, being the newest selection and the 2nd day of release. But no, in fact for the 2nd time since moving here I had the entire theater to myself (the other being Don't Go In The Woods, and rightfully so), allowing me to burp without worry, mutter "Whoa..." at nonsensical plot points, and (sorry) check my phone during the two dance numbers, as they weren't subtitled so I had no idea what they were saying anyway.
And yes, only two! I have long heard about Bollywood films and their frequent, out of nowhere dance numbers, so I was actually kind of interested in seeing how they fit into a horror movie narrative (or any narrative, since this was my first Bollywood movie), and given the movie's 140 minute runtime (with a plot that only has three characters for 90% of it) I figured there would be several. But no, just the two, and both of them are just extended "movie in a movie" bits, as the film's three main characters are a director and the two women he is torn between. So we see one of them film a dance scene early on, and then the other has her own about an hour later. And again, there's no subtitles during these scenes for whatever reason (the lyrics for the soundtrack songs are usually subtitled, however), so if the songs had some tie to the plot the effect was lost on me. Likewise, at the end of the film the hero gives a monologue in voiceover that is also left to my imagination - all the weirder when you consider that they even subtitle the frequent lines that are spoken in English.
Anyway, the movie is pretty fun, though the length is a major hurdle since the plot isn't very complicated and there aren't a whole lot of horror scenes, either. Basically one actress is getting older and jealous of a rising star, so she has her boyfriend (the director) cast her in his next movie so he can be close enough to put some slow-acting curse potion into her water or tea. He has to administer a dose each day for some reason, and of course with each day he finds himself feeling more guilty about it as he falls in love with her, so the angry actress has to step up her game and reveal... that they are sisters! Huh? It's a wonderfully soap opera-esque twist that has almost no bearing on the plot, but I admired the nuttiness.
The horror elements mostly stem from the moments where the poison takes effect, with the best being one of the first. A PA tells her she has to go to set #3, and then we see set #8, as the left side of the "8" disappears to make a "3". So she walks in there, and of course no one is around... except for a demonic killer clown! This Pennywise wannabe chases her around for a while, until she gets out, after which the clown never appears again. Except in your nightmares! No one in the audience means I can snap a pic!
There's also this zombie/demon type dude with flies buzzing around him, and a swarm of CGI insects, so they mix up the enemies but the scenes are all the same - freak out the poor girl until she embarrasses herself. Eventually it harms her career and she is replaced on a movie with the villainous woman (their names are Shanaya and Sanjana - had trouble remembering who was who), and the director switches sides. There aren't a lot of deaths in the movie either; there's a great bit where the good actress' assistant begins jabbing herself with shards of glass, and she ends up dead, and a magic expert loses his head trying to help end the curse, but otherwise it's just these glorified hallucinations until the climax, some 2+ hrs into the movie.
And those CGI bugs are atrocious, which is a bummer since it's basically the movie's big centerpiece horror scene. The more of them in the shot, the more it seems to tax the abilities of the animators; on several occasions you can see one supposedly crawling on her chest or upper arm only for the other arm to flail in between them, as if they were merely crawling on a piece of glass 10 feet in front of her (which is how such effects USED to be achieved, before CGI theoretically could do it "right"). I was also confused by the hospital set climax, as the villain is seen wandering through the halls looking for the heroes, and you don't see a single nurse or orderly the entire time - are they in Haddonfield hospital, or what? Where is everyone? It kills a lot of the tension that it should have, as you feel there's no real danger or stakes - it might as well have been set in an abandoned warehouse (or the closed down movie set, which would have been great since the whole filmmaking aspect of the movie is more or less abandoned after the first half).
But it still mostly works, thanks to the assorted silliness and Mulholland Drive-lite story of ambitious actresses. The two women are gorgeous, and the hero's involvement gives it some extra weight - you want to root for him even though he's the one actually doing the poisoning. It's also got some inadvertently hilarious moments, like when the hero starts to come clean and the soundtrack fades out his dialogue and replaces it with a song. So you just see him confessing everything to another character, and their expression, but it feels like the director knew that YOU already knew all these things so why not enjoy a song instead? There's also a curious bit where he suspects that the bad actress has put the poison in their water bottles, so you see him dumping them and replacing them with fresh water. But the good one sees him doing it, so he makes a "You know me, I'm just weird" expression (again we have a song over the scene, forcing everyone in the sequence to mimic), which she laughs about as if this WAS indeed something she should be used to by now. Also, she has a Fright Night remake poster up in her house, possibly hinting that she's evil too.
Then again, maybe it's just a tip of the hat to a fellow 3D movie, as this was shot in 3D (but not playing in 3D here, sadly). Apart from a few comin at ya type shots during the scare scenes, I don't really see the need for the extra dimension. Most of the film is just two of the three main characters talking in a room or something, so it hardly lends itself to the sort of thing 3D excels at (intricate, vast settings, big action scenes, etc). I'm sure no one would argue about seeing the two leading ladies in the third dimension during their dance routines (or even when they're just talking), but overall I can't say I was ever disappointed that I was seeing it flat.
Thus, for my first Bollywood film I was more or less impressed. I probably wouldn't want to sit through it again, but it was much more focused than I was led to believe these type of movies usually are, and while the horror elements were brief, most of them were worth the wait (and it earned its R rating). Maybe I'll look into seeing the first two (unrelated) entries before I wrap the site up - has anyone seen them? Pros/cons? Or any other Bollywood horror films you can recommend?
What say you?