Directed by Vijendra Bhambhani/ Reviewed by Prarthana Mitra
With Amunet, Indian filmmaker Vijendra Bhambhani decisively carves his place among the practitioners of indie horror/thriller films today. The short supernatural flick filmed in Dubai, comes with a gripping story and a tight screenplay, leavingviewers spooked to the core and many questions unanswered in the end – as any good mystery typically should. The idea or its representation does not offer anything new per se, but Bhambhani’s craftsmanship with the limited means he’s got is evident and impressive, especially when it comes to screenwriting, dialogue delivery, camerawork and sound design.
The story itself begins on a nondescript note, with Aisha, a young woman in search of an apartment. From early on, she is shown to be level-headed, practical, and dead-focused on her career – thinking about little else. Essayed by Aakanksha Naresh, Aisha finds herself in a precarious situation, after her new flatmate Catherine (played by Marge) starts behaving erratically in the night. It not only disrupts Aisha’s work-life balance but also her sanity, which is when she begins to question the history of the space she inhabits. So it’s not as if she accepts the torment without actively trying to get to the bottom of it. She confronts a neighbour about the sinister happenings in her new flat; she also confesses to her boss when her fragile mental state starts affecting her work. However, despite her attempts, one question lingers in the viewer’s mind – is luck on her side? Or, is it too late?
As viewers are left chewing on this mystery, the nocturnal game of paranoia and para-normalcy continues, with Aisha and two other girls (Anna and Mina) in the midst of it.Until the heady climax, Bhambhani leaves everyone completely in the dark regarding the direction that the narrative eventually takes. There are some pretty spine-chilling moments, heightened by the superbly executed jump cuts and jump scares. The performances, art direction and background score also do their bit in prolonging the suspense and terror.
That said, Amunet has its flaws.The production design and lighting is patchy in parts, while the sound design leaves room for precision. There is a lot to be said about the kind of shots, framing and blocking that would have worked best in this sort of a movie. One could also dissect the literal nature of the narrative, that scarcely leaves any room for symbolic significance or interpretation. Nor does Bhambhani offer an elaborate backstory of the “otherworldly creature” that has taken possession of the apartment after “a terrible accident.” We learn of this from the equally distraught and harried neighbour, while the broker Usman (played by Joaquim Gonsalves) is elusive – unperturbed when Aisha calls him in a state of nervous breakdown, seeking a different home.
But there is more where that came from. In ancient Egyptian mythology, Amunet is the goddess of invisibility and part of a group of eight primordial deities responsible for the creation of the world. She symbolises the hidden depths and incomprehensibility of the primeval world. Aisha, however, remains oblivious to the nature or identity of the supernatural entity.
With such gaps in the script, Bhambhani somewhat seals Aisha’s fate because she has nowhere to run, or hide. One could also blame the pace which disallows any character development of a leisurely unfolding of events. Given the shoestring budget, Bhambhani does his best in the twenty minutes he has. Finally, the film presents a stark picture of the multi-cultural nature of co-habitation in cosmopolitan cities today. Whether that portrayal is positive or negative is something that viewers ought to figure out for themselves. But above all, Amunet also depicts the perils of young women living alone in a fast-moving city. The feeling of insecurity is the real evil spirit in the movie, and the end could be an indictment on the apathetic society that stands by mutely and lets the most heinous crimes happen to women.