‘A promising script with decent execution’ were the first words that popped into my head when I finished watching ‘Game Over’, a Tamil psychological thriller cum horror directed by Ashwin Saravanan and presented by Anurag Kashyap. The 103 min long story, dubbed in Hindi, had the audience engaged (and squealing) right till the end, each minute laden with suspense and intrigue.
The film opens with a gruesome home-invasion where a young girl is abducted, beheaded and burnt to ashes in an open field by a heavy-breathing murderer on the prowl. The angry perpetrator then kicks her polythene bound head across a goal post and we are privy to this series of events through grainy, low-res footage he is recording on a handy cam, a brutal souvenir from his exploits.
Swapna, played by Taapsee Pannu, is a reclusive video game designer living on the outskirts of Gurgaon with her caretaker, Kalamma, played by Vinodhini. Swapna works only from home, refusing to step outside for anything other than her sessions with her therapist and Kalamma is practically her only friend. As the story progresses, we become aware of the gamer’s obsession with Pac-Man which she plays through the night unable to sleep, as well as her, intense fear of the dark that sends her into an anxious frenzy every time there’s a power cut. A session with her therapist, played by Anish Kuruvilla, reveals Swapna’s distress after being sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve the previous year. He terms it ‘Anniversary Reaction’, the onset of unsettling feelings that occur on the anniversary of a traumatic incident. Swapna and her therapist have been trying to fight her fear of darkness using Virtual Reality therapy but it soon becomes apparent that her fears are very deep-rooted.
Writer-director Sarvanan deftly tackles the impact of sexual trauma on the mind and body of a victim and their struggle to achieve normalcy by employing the structure of a video game. Like Pac-Man, where she beats her highest score every night, Swapna tries to navigate through her life’s maze, trying to understand why she is on the receiving end of her parents and society’s narrow-mindedness when it comes to sexual assault. Her trauma is imprinted on her body, in the form of a tattoo she had got earlier that fateful day, a metaphor for the scars she bears – physical and emotional.
Half-way through the film, the story strays from being a psychological thriller, relying on supernatural elements to further the plot. Swapna, in a desperate attempt to have her tattoo removed, learns about memorial tattoos and the fact that her tattoo contains the ashes of Amrutha, the murdered girl from the beginning of the film. Swapna’s blatant attempts at suicide fail and we are subjected to a long winding, emotional subplot involving Amrutha’s mother that brings nothing to the story except eye-rolls and sighs.
Vasanth’s cinematography is clumsy, as if on purpose, heightening the sense of claustrophobia the director is trying to project. The camera follows Swapna, sometimes lurking a little too close, giving us a constant feeling of impending doom. Pannu’s performance as the perpetually panicked victim is gripping and her frequent meltdowns, heartbreaking. Vasanthi plays the caring mother figure to the T, indulging Swapna’s child-like ways but willing to draw the line when necessary. The comfort and camaraderie between the female characters is assurance enough that you don’t need men to slay physical or metaphorical demons. Sarvanan peppers the film with clues, using tell-tale signs and posters which the audience must keep an eye out for. The writing is mostly concise, despite slight lags here and there, and the use of a few characters really helps keep the story focused on Swapna and her turmoil.
The last 30 minutes of the film are intense and nerve-racking. With only three lives to her name, Sarvanan places the gamer in the game and Swapna understands that, whatever the outcome, she has to put up a solid fight. The end left me a wreck and for those who enjoy watching thrillers, this is a must-watch!
I give this film 3.5 chirps out of 5.