Aiyai: Wrathful Soul

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Aiyai: Wrathful Soul
"Singh is a capable lead and brings pathos to a character who never really seems to get a break."

A film that begins halfway through and then takes the viewer back through disparate plot strands which eventually coalesce, Aiyai: Wrathful Soul is an ambitious d├ębut from Ilanthirayan Alan Arumugam which shows promise but never quite gels. It follows student Kiran (Kabir Singh), who has recently lost his job after a confrontation at work and is relieved to find a new one in a quiet out-of-town funeral parlour where, as they say, none of the customers ever comes back to complain. At least, none has to date. When he arrives and is shown around by friendly boss Albert (Richard Huggert), there are mutterings about a recent departure who might have trouble crossing over. It doesn't seem serious - just the kind of humour that gets people by in the business - but later events will make viewers reconsider the meaning behind those words.

Though most of its characters are white Australians, the film is influenced by Hindi mythology, and viewers who have some acquaintance with that will get more out of it. Where it might have benefitted from going into this in more depth, it instead spends rather too much of the running time on a subplot involving local gangsters which is too crude and overfamiliar to add much of value. Arumugam obviously has talent but his inexperience shows in his difficulty balancing these parts of the narrative. He has assembled a capable cast, however, and by and large they manage to convince even in the most underdeveloped roles. Singh is a capable lead and brings pathos to a character who never really seems to get a break, whether he's confronting the supernatural, dealing with the visa process or just trying to be a good citizen and help those in need.

Also impressive is Tahlia Jade Holt as Kiran's girlfriend Sara, who struggles to balance her own commitments as a student with caring for him after a disturbing incident at the funeral parlour. She's one of those actors who can play someone lost and overwhelmed without simply annoying older, more savvy viewers, and we feel for Sara as she tries to do the right thing. Of course, nothing here is quite what it seems and every character faces some degree of moral compromise. The film is at its most interesting when dealing with this but the pacing is off and too many scenes are repetitive or simply obvious.

When it comes to action, Arumugam sticks to a familiar formula but carries it off well, with creative camerawork and a pragmatic approach to special effects. His resistance to adopting the more showy approach currently popular with horror filmmakers pays dividends. There is also a mystery element to the film which is well designed and will make you shudder for a different reason.

Overall, this film has a lot going for it and may well signal the start of a promising career. Its lopsided narrative and script issues, however, interrupt the flow so that it takes patience to watch. Stick with it if you're a fan of ghost stories and looking for something a little bit different.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2021
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A funeral parlour assistant is possessed by a spirit which is seeking revenge.

Director: Ilanthirayan Alan Arumugam

Writer: Ilanthirayan Alan Arumugam, Charles Benedict, Mukund Ramanan

Starring: Korey Williams, Tahlia Jade Holt, Asabi Goodman, Richard Huggett, Marco Sinigaglia, Pennyanne Lace

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Australia

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