Tumbbad (2018) Screamfest Review

Horror News

I can sometimes be a person who over-exaggerates, perhaps leaning toward the melodramatic at times.

I acknowledge that, and have made peace with it.

But I can say (knowing full well that there are just under two months left in the year – time to see plenty more horror flicks) that the film I screened at the 18th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles, is the best horror film of the year.

And let me reiterate this point: so far. But oh, how the remaining screenings of 2018 have their work cut out for them.

In other words – GUSH, GUSH, GUSH!

And it’s not common for me to love a film so thoroughly. Like the hunt for treasure so important to this film’s plot, I’m always on the lookout for something special, something unique and powerful – the stack of gold coins as far as cinematic achievement.

With Tumbbad (an Indian import), “X” marks the spot. The film will quite simply blow your mind.

It did mine, and even now, weeks since screening the film, I’m not even sure what I should say, or how I should say it. But as this is my job, I’ll do my very best to make sure my avid readers of 4 fully understand how important it is that they see this film.

Told in three chapters – each about 15 years apart on the timeline – you’ll follow the lives of a poor family in the rural stretches of India – near the village of Tumbbad (hence the title). Preteen Vinayak (Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jogalekar) and his younger brother Sadashiv live with their mother (Jyoti Malshe) in a rundown home in the country. They care for a literally ancient grandmother (from their father’s side). She must be kept asleep at all times, and fed on a regular schedule. If she awakens at any time, there is the potential for danger. During a family crisis, Vinayak is left alone to tend to the bedridden and unconscious crone. But when she wakes up…

It is here where Vinayak (and the audience) learns of an enduring family secret – with the promise of riches beyond his wildest imagination. Every 15 years in the film’s story-line, we find Vinayak (Sohum Shah) older, smarter (but not necessarily wiser)… and eventually, he’ll pass along the family secret to his own son (Mohammad Samad).

The film’s score is absolutely lush, perfectly appropriate to every moment – whether it’s a tense, horrific scene or a mystical, magical moment filled with awe. I don’t say this often, but if/when the score by Jesper Kyd is released to the public – I’ll be the first in line to pick it up. It’s one of those soundtracks with which you’d gladly sit back, close your eyes and find escape – conjuring up all of the visions of the film itself, but standing on its own as a glorious piece of art.

It’s sometimes an uphill battle for a film to get continuity just right. And if your film is set in three separate times – fifteen years apart – your audience will expect some dust, some decay and a marked difference in the appearance of props and sets. Now – usually if you’re watching a film, you probably won’t be paying special attention to such details, but I was personally taken by the impressive change in the central locations as time goes by in the story – overgrown greenery, rotten wood and collapsing ceilings. But nothing can top Vinayak’s return to his childhood home, where we last saw his ancient grandmother. Not only is the continuity amazing, but it adds a deliciously strange plot point – and a simply masterful piece of set design. Seriously, wow.

Across the board, the performances are insanely good. In supporting roles, Jyoti Malshe is spectacular as young Vinayak’s mother. Of note was one harrowing scene surrounding a devastating accident. And as Vinayak’s son (in the third act), Mohammad Samad delivers one of the best performances from a young actor – this side of the teen cast of Stand By Me. Deep, believable and sympathetic.

In appearance (perhaps it’s the moustache) and in just plain charisma and talent – lead actor Sohum Shah (who also produced here) reminded me of a young Omar Shariff. Having to play Vinayak at various ages – you’ll never find fault with his growth as a person (physically and mentally). He’s as easy an actor to fall in love with as one could hope for, and so despite some of the character’s more dangerous (and fool-hardy) choices, your sympathy and concern for this character will never, ever falter. It’s a truly exceptional and engaging lead performance.

There are far too many stunning moments (and surprising turns) throughout Tumbbad, to properly catalog all of them here. However, the suspenseful introduction to “grandmother” in Chapter One and the introduction to the “treasure” are jaw-dropping and stunning set-pieces. And on the note of the “treasure” reveal: once you realize where the film has taken you, you’ll certainly gasp – I did.

And another, “Oh my, I see what they’re doing” arrives at the very beginning of the third act – as it becomes clear what Vinayak’s son is up to in the scene’s opening moments.

I’ve often said that for a film to attain a perfect, 5-star rating from me, that there must be some semblance of an almost transcendental reaction on my part.

Look – if at any point during a film, I say to myself, “I friggin’ love this film”, then I know the filmmakers have hit pay dirt.

Tumbbad is everything you want out of a movie. It’s emotionally resonant (most prominently in the father/son relationship of the film’s third act). It’s a visual masterpiece. It’s absolutely terrifying, harrowing, gut-wrenching and most of all – touching.

From the sometimes devastating performances from an expert ensemble cast, to the terrifying make-up effects and gorgeous cinematography, to a wholly original premise, Tumbbad is a perfect film – through and through.

And I must add this… my husband and I communicate via film and television quotes. So I believe that ultimate praise for any movie, would be if I were to adopt dialogue from the film and add it into my everyday vernacular. In the case of Tumbbad, the phrase (prominent in the film) “Sleep, or Hastar will come for you”, will be added to my daily life – used when appropriate – perhaps if myself or my husband are dealing with a bout of insomnia – or whenever else it might be deemed useful.

In other words, if I’m quoting dialogue from your film, you’ve made it.

Tumbbad’s screening at Screamfest marked the film’s West Coast Premiere. In my wrap-up article of the festival (check that out here), the film took the top spot in my “Best of Fest” listing – for the feature film offerings. It also found a place in my “movie props/costumes/set pieces” I’d love to add to my vast nerd collectibles. Those majorly important “dough-boys” or perhaps some of the central-to-the-plot gold coins would be a welcome addition to my overflowing shelves.

And finally, at Screamfest, the film took home trophies for Best Feature Film and Best Visual Effects.

The film is still playing the festival circuit, so stop traffic, cut in line and reschedule any hair appointments – but do whatever is within your power to take in this perfect cinematic experience.

At press, there is no word on a wider US theatrical, DVD or VOD release.

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