Game Over movie review: Taapsee Pannu hits the ball out of the park through a terrifying thriller
Game Over is like nothing we have been served by Bollywood so far.
castTaapsee Pannu, Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, Anish Kuruvilla, Sanchana Natarajan, Ramya Subramanian, Parvathi T.
Language: Game Over was simultaneously shot in Telugu and Tamil. A Hindi dubbed version has also been released. This is a review of the Hindi version.
I dropped coffee on myself at one point post the halfway mark in Game Over. This happened at a moment so startling in the film, that I think I let out an involuntary yelp of surprise and my paper-cup-holding hand reflexively shot up to cover my mouth. The coffee stain is gone, but the fear evoked by that scene still lingers.
Taapsee Pannu stars as Swapna, a stay-at-home video game professional in writer-director Ashwin Saravanan's film. Something is eating away at her when we first encounter her, but we are not told entirely what it is. A memory of a physical assault appears to be the cause, and now she finds herself getting panic attacks especially in the dark. Her therapist (Anish Kuruvilla) has assured her this is an "anniversary reaction" triggered by the realisation that it was around this time in an earlier year that she was assaulted.
Before viewers are introduced to her though, there is an eerie, horrifying prologue about the gruesome murder of another woman (Sanchana Natarajan) in a quiet neighbourhood in a sprawling city. Her connection to Swapna is not revealed, but thoughts of her bloody end are inescapable as we watch Swapna struggle to cope with her own trauma in the company of her housekeeper and sole companion Kalamma (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan).
Game Over is as crisp and to-the-point as a thriller can get. It wastes no time on song and dance or back stories for each character. And Pannu and Vaidyanathan are terrific throughout, their performances as perfectly pared down as the tone of the film. Swapna is suffering mental anguish, she is avoiding her concerned family, she shares a heartwarming bond with Kalamma, the latter and the doctor know exactly what happened to her in the past, we do not - these are the basic elements around which Saravanan weaves his brilliantly minimalist psychological drama which he has co-written with Kaavya Ramkumar.
The director has so far made one film in Kollywood - Maya starring Tamil superstar Nayanthara - and has another unreleased Tamil film in the cans. He has approached Game Over as a pan-India project, writing the story as more or less geography-neutral, casting Pannu - who is equally well known in the north and the south - as his lead, shooting simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil, also releasing a Hindi dubbed version with Bollywood stalwart Anurag Kashyap as a presenter.
As a Hindi speaker who does not know Tamil, I am grateful Saravanan made an effort to reach Hindi audiences, because Kollywood is way better at scary films than Bollywood. The closest I can remember to being this spooked out while watching a Hindi thriller in recent years is with Pavan Kirpalani's fabulous Phobia starring Radhika Apte (2016) and Akshay Akkineni's Pizza (2014), which was in any case a Hindi remake of Karthik Subbaraj's Tamil film of the same name.
The beauty of Game Over is that even after it is over, what was going on in the film remains anybody's guess. It is not a Sixth Sense in which you see that crucial scene towards the end and go: Ah okay, so that was it then? Here in Game Over, you have to figure it out completely on your own, based on various clues strewn around such as that poster on Swapna's wall saying, "What if life is a video game and deja vu are just check points?" So are we inside a video game in which the protagonist must play to survive? Or are we inside the mind of an individual with mental health concerns? Are we seeing one of her dreams along with her? Is there a serial killer on the loose in the city? Or is there a paranormal, after-life explanation for it all?
These questions and the obvious commentary about the trauma of survivors of violence, particularly women, are cerebral considerations that come up while reacting to Game Over at an intellectual level. Before getting to that stage though, there is the very primal level at which the film operates, designed as it is to scare the bejeezus out of us, keeping us constantly on edge and going against all expectations each time it lulls us into an assumption that it is about to get predictable though it never does.
This is like nothing we have been served by Bollywood so far, so bless you Ashwin Saravanan for not confining yourself to Kollywood or Tollywood viewers and dubbing it - so well - in Hindi.
Game Over is inventive, it is intelligent, it does not take the viewer lightly and above all else, it is terrifying.
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