Director: Ashwin Saravanan
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Vinodhini Vaidyanathan
Terrible things happen to women in Game Over. They get beheaded, sexually assaulted, stalked, stabbed, humiliated and beaten mercilessly. It's almost as if director Ashwin Saravanan is perversely testing the waters to see what more he can put his mostly female cast through. It's nasty and tedious and honestly, the only thing that got me through was the steely expression on Taapsee Pannu's face as she soldiered on.
Game Over is a home invasion film – it belongs to the same sub-genre as Ram Gopal Varma's Kaun or Yash Chopra's 1969 cult classic Ittefaq in which an escaped convict breaks into the home of a seemingly docile housewife. The home invasion film thrives on scaring us where we feel safest – in our homes. In Game Over, Ashwin add another angle – the protagonist Swapna is a video game programmer and eventually, the narrative starts to resemble a video game, in which she must combat higher and higher levels of danger.
I haven't seen Ashwin's earlier horror film Maya but he has a talent for staging suspense. The pre-opening credit sequence is crafted with flair – we see a woman alone at home and hear a man breathing heavily. Very quickly, we become afraid of the breathing. Ashwin also smartly refrains from showing us the actual killing. Our imagination and the slicing sounds do the work of scaring us more effectively.
But it's all downhill from here. We are introduced to Swapna and her house help Kalamma. Swapna has suffered a terrible tragedy and is now voluntarily homebound. She's also pathologically afraid of the dark. The odds are against her but clearly that's not enough. So midway through the film, she also becomes confined to a wheelchair. And then, it's show time with the mysterious serial killer.
Who is this man? Why is he compelled to do the things that he is doing? What does he do when he's not terrorizing women? Game Over doesn't answer these questions. Instead, the story, also by Ashwin and co-writer Kaavya Ramkumar, swerves from suspenseful to downright silly. Tattoos play a key role – Swapna has a gaming controller inked on her wrist. There are constant references to video games – including old–time classics like Pac-Man. The camera lingers on posters with smart lines like – What if life is a video game? What indeed?
Taapsee shivers, shudders, suffers and fights back with absolute commitment. Our first visual of her is her jogging with a determined look on her face. It instantly took me back to Pink in which she did the same thing as Minal Arora. And it struck me that Taapsee has become Indian cinema's designated tough girl. She's attractive but accessible. Her strong personality, including that distinctive curly hair, permeates her characters so they come across as smart and gutsy – even when they are scheming murderers like in Badla. Her presence itself suggests that patriarchy is about to be punctured and ass is about to be kicked – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.
Taapsee powers through the sloppiness of this material. So does her co-star Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, whose maternal disposition works like a calming balm on all the screaming and slicing. To steal a line from Shakespeare, Game Over is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. These two deserved a better film.