Verdict: Mona Darling is a narrative-driven thriller that doesn't hold back!
When you are subjected to a sensual, toned down sex scene (ahem censor board ahem) followed by a series of gruesome murders (yes, that’s the word to describe them) in the opening five minutes, you know what to expect next. Mona Darling, as claimed by the producers, is India’s first ever social media thriller. This genre is relatively niche and untapped, hence a film of such kind deserves a special mention for its valiant effort. Especially, in Bollywood, where film studios dish out love-sagas week in week out, this film secures its place unflinchingly.
While the trailer of the movie may give a sort of false impression that it’s a blatant copy of Friend Request (2016) or Unfriended (2014), it’s unfounded when you watch the movie. If anything, it’s an amalgamation of both these movies and the director, quite wittily, has his own show running.
As mentioned, the film begins with a series of murders on the campus of a well-regarded college (IST). At the same time, Sara (Divya Menon) is frantically searching for her best friend, Mona (Suzanna Mukherjee) who has gone missing since her last text which read “call urgently”. The cops are called in to investigate these murders and with the help of the headmaster/principal, Sanjay Suri, who is revered among his students and commonly referred to as ‘Sir'. The students do just that – investigate. No one gives two hoots about Mona who has just performed a disappearing act and instead the authorities pacify Sara and try to mitigate the situation. With no help in sight, Sara turns to a genius/hacker/socio-path/classmate, Wiki (as in the Wikipedia) played by Anshuman Jha, to track Mona and her whereabouts. And from here on, the story fans out into various sub-plots.
Let’s be clear, the movie cannot be categorized as a horror film. Neither the director nor the producers have claimed it to be and rightly so. It may have a supernatural element attached to it, but it’s far from an outright horror movie. A few scares (two, to be precise) here and there and that’s about it.
As for the film, it’s a bit weird. That’s probably the first thing you’ll notice while watching it. Bollywood has given us sub-par horror movies riddled with usual horror tropes, but this one stands out from the crowd. The color palette of the movie itself is unnerving. The use of different lean-in close up shots of characters (as evident from the trailer) and jump cuts make it for an eerie experience. The movie relies heavily on its convoluted plot, eerie and edgy backdrop of the vast college campus and finally, the narration. It reduces the usual horror movie tropes like jump scares to a bare minimum, which is a welcome change. It’s an art that more and more filmmakers need to delve into.
Having said that, this movie is far from being a masterpiece. It has its own flaws. The movie flows back and forth in time to support its narrative and that can be jarring and leave you dazed. Another major gripe is the pacing and the length of the movie. Some of the scenes do not really lead anywhere and could have been done without. Also, it indeed would have been a crisp, intense thriller had it spent more time in the editing room. So if you have the patience to sit through the entirety of the movie and let the layers peel off at their own pace, then this shouldn't be a problem for you.
Why You Should Watch This Film: It’s a ‘never tried before’ formula in Bollywood. It’s a welcoming change that relies more on the story rather than grotesque makeup or CGI. If you love off-beat horror movies, then give this one a chance.