Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Sacrifice – review

Director: Ricardo Islas

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

It is always great to stumble, literally, across a vampire film. This was a film I came across on a browse through Amazon Prime and just thought it looked interesting enough to while away a little bit of time. Only when it started running did I realise that it was directed and written by Ricardo Islas. Islas directed the film Night Fangs. Night Fangs is one that many people hate but, despite flaws and a low budget, I really enjoy.

I also enjoy filmmakers reaching out to other countries’ myths and folklore. And that is very much done here. There are issues with the film, especially in the coda scene, but it was still welcome in the variety it added.

It begins in India and a heavily pregnant woman, Bela Shankari (Lady India), tries to evade some men but she is found, rendered unconscious, placed in a pit and then stoned. One of the assailants is a monk. Over in Chicago, not long afterwards, cop Tony Salerno (Franco Steeves) is preparing his family for the coming school day – badly, or at least according to daughter Antonella (Giuliana Islas, Night Fangs), insisting that they need something for breakfast. Her sister Carla (Grin) is dealing with body image in the bathroom and her mom, Sheila (Elizabeth Abraham), is on a trip to India to visit family, but is due home that day. A note regarding therapist Sheila; in IMDb credits she is listed as Sheila Salerno but in the film credits she is Sheila Khan and is referred to as Dr Khan by characters.

Franco Steeves as Tony
Tony picks Sheila up from the airport and she has her two nephews, Samir (Armaan Bajpai) and Pran (Aditya Krukeja), with her. As Tony takes a picture of them he accidentally snaps a shot of a guy (Max Da'Silva) who seems to be watching them. Sheila informs Tony that the boys can’t speak English. They are there for two weeks and they stop off at a dinner. As Tony orders, the boys spread millet seed (or baajara as the boys refer to it in Hindi) on the floor and the waitress (Liz Bancroft) slips and falls. The use of seed tweaked my vampire radar.

stumbling into the monster
In a building at the airport a baggage handler (Christopher Kahler) realises someone is close by and warns he will call security. Then he notices a pair of naked feet facing away from him under a curtain. We see hair shifting, very briefly, and it made me think of werewolves though we never saw this type of shot again and our monster is not particularly hirsute. He goes to move the curtain and something launches at him, killing him. Back at the Salerno house, Sheila’s assistant Nancy (Jennifer Lenius), agrees to be a short-term Nanny for the kids. However the boys throw millet down in front of her and she picks the seeds up, but she cannot answer how many. When Sheila tries to take the boys’ bag of seeds they panic and Samir calls out “please”. They realise the boys can actually speak English. Sheila then gets a call to say her brother has died.

the churel
So we end up with the boys tracked by two parties. The first is the man – who turns out to be a monk from a tantric cult that the boys' father was a member of. The stoning at the beginning of the film was of a prostitute pregnant with the cult leader’s child (there is also a suggestion later that the cult was one that indulged in child sacrifice, though this could have just been prejudice on behalf of the speaker). After they stoned the woman, she could not rest in the grave and became a churel. This is described in film as a woman who dies pregnant or in childbirth through unnatural means and cannot rest until she has killed all the male line of the one who wronged her. She is said to drink their blood and eat their flesh.

a close-up of the churel
In Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology they are described thus: “In India, when a woman dies an unnatural death or in childbirth, she will return as a type of undead... However, if she should do so during the five- day Festival of Diwali, she returns specifically as the vampiric REVENANT known as a churel. Churels are an extremely ugly species of vampire in their true form, having backward-facing feet; a black tongue; sagging breasts; thick, rough lips; and wild HAIR. Beginning with the youngest and most handsome man in its family line, it will seduce him and drain him dry of his blood, leaving only a shriveled husk of an old man behind.” In this she is going through the male line oldest to youngest.

picking up seeds
The backwards feet is part of this but, because of the budget, really shown as her walking backwards. Visually she looks more revenant (or even zombie) than the typical Western vampire. There are other aspects that are beyond Bane’s description starting with the arithmomania, which would seem to have been added to the churel’s lore. We also get a concept that if her body is too damaged she can possess a living woman who is close to her target(s). This leads to an interesting way to kill a creature who, for all intents and purposes, cannot be stopped. I was bemused by her taking the boys back to her lair when she was able to get her hands on them but this is folklore consistent, Bane suggests she will “take him back to its lair in a graveyard. There, it will keep him prisoner, feeding off him a little at a time.” (The graveyard becomes a disused steel mill).

the boys are watched
There were issues and things that could have been expanded on. The issue of sacrifice comes in with Sheila prepared to sacrifice herself by injecting herself with Pran’s blood and tricking the churel into believing she had killed him (the monk actually tries this but uses a cat as the receptical of Pran's blood, the churel seeing through the ruse as a human was not used). That didn’t sit well with her having the means for the actual way they use to tackle the churel nor did it sit well in the family dynamics. Given the level of conspiracy to get the boys to the US (and away, they hoped, from the churel), why wasn’t she aware of the boys’ language skills? There is a rift built into this with Tony (who was unaware of the truth) that needed more exploring – especially as Sheila is openly jealous of his young female partner Stacey (Victoria Flees).

Elizabeth Abraham as Sheila
I had a real problem with the coda to the film, despite the fact that it referred back to events during the film. I just didn’t see why it would be done or exactly what had caused an explosive reaction. The scene where Tony and Sheila are interviewed by a panel of his boss, homeland security, the FBI and an Indian consulate (Meenu Jethi) smacked of unreality, as did a scene that ends up having Tony suspended for police brutality. The acting wasn’t necessarily brilliant (and the sound, in one scene, of the kids screaming was noticeably too loud to the point of distortion) but, despite it all I enjoyed this. Perhaps because it is an Islas flick? Who knows. But for me it was worth the watch. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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