In an interview he gave me two weeks ago, Ramgopal Varma said he thinks horror films “should never have a story”. According to him, an ominous setting alone can do the trick. That’s pretty much all he’s willing to offer in Bhoot Returns, his new film about a family that moves into a house only to discover that it might already be occupied by a supernatural presence.
The ghost in Bhoot Returns is Shabbo, and she is visible only to the six-year-old girl in the house (Alayana Sharma). While the little kid’s mother (Manisha Koirala) loses her patience quickly over repeated mentions of this ‘imaginary friend’, it takes a little longer for the father (Satya’s JD Chakravarthy) to be convinced that not all is well. It’s when things begin to go bump in the night that the family is truly spooked.
Despite the flimsy plotting, Varma succeeds in keeping you on the edge during the first half of the film by relying on old tricks like an eardrum-splitting background score and some crazy camera angles. From above a ceiling fan and under a glass table, to behind a television set and inside a basin, Varma indulges his obsession with unlikely camera placements, and exploits 3D effectively to create a sense of foreboding.
Alas, the film nosedives almost immediately after interval, when Varma throws the oldest stereotype into the mix – a typical buffoon cop who’s insensitive and dismissive of the distressed family’s condition. There’s also some of the hammiest acting in the film’s underwhelming climax, and an abrupt ending barely 90 minutes in.
Bhoot Returns is no Paranormal Activity, although it does borrow at least three key moments from that popular horror franchise. It’s not entirely a waste of time either, because Varma does deliver a few good scares. I’m going with two out of five for Bhoot Returns. It’s the kind of film that the phrase ‘time-pass entertainment’ was invented to describe.