Evil Eye (dir. Elan and Rajeev Dassani, 2020) – Usha Khatri becomes convinced that her daughter’s new boyfriend may be connected to her own past.
It is a common belief among Asian parents that one should form a family first and that love will come in time. Second-generation Indian-American Pallavi (Sunita Mani) does not believe in that. She chooses to wait for true romance, unmoved by the attempts of her mother Usha (Sarita Choudhury) to play matchmaker.
Everything seems to fall into place for her when Pallavi finds the man of her dreams in Sandeep (Omar Maskati). She believes that her mother would be pleased. But as it were, this is far from a romantic comedy. Usha instead becomes fearful at the sight of Sandeep. She starts to warn her daughter of a family curse, convinced that the man may be the reincarnation of her abusive ex-boyfriend.
The story of Evil Eye is distinctively Asian. As with the pressure of marriage, the mythology of rebirth is deeply rooted in Asian and specifically Indian culture. Playing on the idea of past lives and curses, directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani introduce this interesting cultural layer to an otherwise universal story about the trauma of domestic abuse.
The culture is also one that Pallavi feels distant from, having grown up in America. She doesn’t believe in superstitions and sees her mother’s beliefs as paranoia. This brings out the complex dynamics in immigrant families, where the latter generations grow up in disparate environments and come to believe in vastly different ideals.
Usha’s worry also comes from a genuine place beyond superstition. She wants to protect her daughter from suffering what she had. The emotional scars of psychological abuse are permanent, she knew. When Pallavi gives up her independence and becomes increasingly reliant on Sandeep, Usha knows she has to stop her daughter from making the mistake she once did.
Is he or isn’t he? Ambiguity surrounds Sandeep. His actions often appear genuine and even romantic. Yet on closer look, he can just as easily be construed as manipulative. Toxic behaviours aren’t always obvious. How can you know that you are a victim of gaslighting if that very act makes you trust the perpetrator?
While the last act loses steam and lands in hackneyed territory, the thriller excels in that everything before then maintains a stinging sense of doubt. Uncertainty grows as Pallavi sinks deeper into the relationship, making Evil Eye a truly unsettling watch.
Tense psychological thriller Evil Eye draws out the fear of the uncertainty surrounding toxic behaviour in relationships, against the distinctive backdrop of South Indian culture.