Sex, crime, and supernatural thrills have been staple ingredients of the films produced by the Bhatts, otherwise known as Bollywood’s favorite B-movie merchants. In his directorial debut Murder 3, Vishesh Bhatt, son of longtime producer Mukesh Bhatt, relies on all three of those staples, but blends them with some bizarre ideas to create an unusual cocktail that doesn’t quite deliver the desired kick.

Just days after the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend Roshni (Aditi Rao Hydari), fashion photographer Vikram (Randeep Hooda) takes a shine to restaurant waitress Nisha (Sara Loren), whom he brings home to live with him. As the police investigates Roshni’s sudden vanishing and suspected murder, Nisha finds herselfpermanently on the edge in this creepy, isolated house with plumbing problems, creaky windows, and fluctuating power supply.

This house in fact, is the fourth protagonist of Murder 3, one that hides many secrets, we learn, during an unintentionally comical scene in which a middle-aged British woman sells the place to its new owner insisting she’s "too old" to maintain it, never mind that the skirt she’s wearing barely reaches her knees.

If you disregard the laughable romance between Vikram and Nisha, and Randeep Hooda’s comatose style of dialogue delivery, nothing particularly significant happens until the film’s second half when the mystery of Roshni’s disappearance and the source of Nisha’s anxities is finally divulged. Who’d have thought that (the title of) a David Fincher film would contain the hint to this big reveal?

Of the cast, Pakistani actress Sara Loren is easy on the eyes, but emotes with the ease of a battery-operated robot. Randeep Hooda’s distracting toupee, meanwhile, makes it hard to take him seriously, even in his supposedly intense scenes. It’s Aditi Rao Hydari who makes something of an impression playing the ignored girlfriend. Sacrificing her vanity for the film’s more challenging bits, she offers what is at best an occasionally moving performance.

Despite its curious premise and a nice twist in its final moments, Murder 3 is mostly clunky and never works as a satisfying edge-of-your seat thriller. The tense moments are all second-hand stuff that you’ve seen many times before, and the characters so superficially written that they’re hard to care for.

First-timer Vishesh Bhatt’s filmmaking skills are visibly raw, but he does herald one important new change at his family banner. Murder 3 is a more or less faithful copy of the Colombian thriller The Hidden Face, whose remake rights the Bhatts legally acquired. That, you see, is a big improvement from all those years of cheerfully ripping off Hollywood and Asian films without so much as a by your leave.I’m going with two out of five for Murder 3. Even a preposterous plot needs skillful direction to pull off convincingly.

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