Kriya opens with a statement: “In Hindu custom, it is ritually prescribed that a son must perform his father’s last rites.” The horror film is dedicated to dissecting this idea by examining its impact on one cursed family and the unlucky outsider that gets looped into their business. Written and directed by Sidharth Srinivasan — who aims to tackle conservatism with the film — Kriya is well-made with a lot to say, even when its delivery sometimes drops the ball.
The story begins with DJ Neel (Noble Luke) hooking up with a pretty girl named Sitara (Navjot Randhawa) he met while dancing at a club. She invites him back to her place — a beautiful yet eerie home — where they unexpectedly walk in on Sitara’s family mourning her father, who is on the verge of death. Neel, shocked but supportive, sticks around somewhat warily — something he does a lot as the film progresses.
For its small budget and short shoot, Kriya looks amazing: the lighting is dark and moody without losing shape in faces, the sound design is impactful, and the music is effective — utilizing sharp crescendos that make for appropriately unsettling scenes. The film does a great job of taking its time, letting silence and unease linger and expand while you watch.
Sitara’s family makes up most of the cast: her sister Sara (Kanak Bhardwaj) is creepy, her mother (Avantika Akerkar) is hostile, and her father’s caretaker (Anuradha Majumdar) is a friendly face. The cast does well to portray the swings between everyday life and grief, but the script sometimes lets them down with clunky dialogue that impedes their delivery.
Neel’s sensitivity as a character is interesting next to the purpose of the film, which is to tackle the patriarchy. However, his backstory gets too hazy and creates a disconnect. Sitara’s sister Sara is the film’s bright spot, with her cool apathy, matter-of-fact tonality, and surprisingly sympathetic moments.
Kriya is at its best in the beginning, when its plot begins to pick at your nerves, and at its end when everything comes full circle. Even if the middle of the film can be frustrating because of all of its separated parts, the ending has something every discouraging horror movie needs: the moment where it pieces everything together.