Sabrina movie review: Netflix original is a poorly written and executed film filled with horror clichés

Anupam Kant Verma

December 04, 2018 13:46:53 IST

1.5/5

Netflix’s original production with Indonesian horror magnate Rocky Soraya Sabrina can be read as a flip-book of horror cliches and tropes designed to gratify the lowest common denominator.

It is a sorry state of affairs, because when you look beneath the clumsily embroidered rug, you discover the crumbs of a potentially strong story that got wasted owing to some desultory execution.

Sabrina’s towering mountain of cliches includes a creepy doll, contracting pupils, possession, ghost hunting shamans, a near total absence of logic, terrible acting, a demon out for revenge etc. What’s new is a literal fist fight between the demon and the ghost hunter, and a spirit detecting app that heralds the arrival of the evil sprite. To this steaming cauldron Soraya pours extended expositions, almost all of them laughable, including one where the demon actually introduces himself to the ghost hunters.

A still from Sabrina.

The director’s fundamental commitment to ensuring that the audience understands everything makes for a tactless, extremely poorly written horror film that must be one of the worst Netflix originals released by the streaming giant to date.

Aiden is the heir to a doll making company that made its fortune due to the production of Sabrina, an extraordinarily popular product. He lives with his wife Maira and their niece Vanya in a large, roomy house (an excuse for Soraya to ensure frantic, extended camera movement). Little Vanya lost her parents and misses her mother a lot. So she brings home a game that helps people connect with their deceased loved ones. It is accompanied by an app, simply called Spirit Detector.

All hell breaks loose when she plays the game. In the guise of her mother, a demon — hell-bent on possessing a human body — enters the human realm. When nothing else seems to work, Maira beseeches Laras, a ghost hunter friend, for help. Laras walks into her friend’s house along with Raynard, her husband, determined to cast out Baghiah, the demon, only to end up raking a lot more than otherworldly matters.

In between this tried and tested story, Soraya lodges a couple of twists while structuring his narrative with credible finesse. But poor treatment, terrible acting and the characters’ illogical decision-making make it awfully difficult for the viewer to look past the veneer into the meat of the story. Not that it is unintentional. Soraya prioritises consumption over everything else. He encourages viewers to swim the surface along with his characters and be bamboozled by the jump-scares and forgettable special effects. That’s the film’s great undoing. In purposely imploring us to miss the wood for the trees, he forgets to polish the rot satisfyingly enough for his consumers.

Even Sabrina, the doll that gives the film its title, becomes secondary to the film’s many confusions, further alienating the audience.

Sabrina begins on a promising note. The credit sequence juxtaposes scenes from Aiden and Maira’s wedding with those from the manufacturing of the doll. It sets us up to encounter the central conflict of the story. Sadly, it is all downhill from there. One can forgive the jarring jump scares owing to the commercial nature of the enterprise. But the bad, non-committal acting is particularly difficult to tide over and the purposeless editing takes care of the rest.

I’d read somewhere that Netflix aims to help viewers the world over overcome their reluctance of viewing subtitled films by offering unique, quality content that resonates universally. But multiple instances of films and TV series that only end up reinforcing cultural stereotypes instead appear to be mushrooming worldwide. The streaming giant’s much lauded research into local viewing preferences seems to be producing content that offers old wine in a new, shinier bottle. This is obviously not always the case. But Netflix runs the risk of alienating its audience towards particular creative geographies due to these glaring mistakes.

In sum, Sabrina shouldn’t be in your viewing list. Even the casual viewer will have plenty of options that will satisfy their senses in a far more wholesome manner. It isn’t just a bad film. It is a terrible product that leaves both the viewer and the doll it is named after in the lurch. And who’d want to watch a film that pays lip-service to its supposedly central character.

Updated Date: Dec 04, 2018 13:46 PM