Joining the leagues of Netflix’s foreign TV series catalogue with shows like German sci-fi thriller Dark and Colombian crime drama Narcos is India’s Ghoul. Ghoul is by far one of the more intriguing selections on Netflix now. The best way I can describe the show is 24 meets The Exorcist. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a show that has been able to tackle the idea of the supernatural in the modern world. The most memorable of late being thecampy Supernatural and the now-cancelled live action Constantine TV series. A qualm I have about these kinds of shows is how quickly the premise loses steam and becomes stale and formulaic. Ghoul however just might be the exception.
With only three 45 minute episodes, this miniseries tells a winding and twisted tale of a fictionalized India in which a highly regimented and near-totalitarian government rules over. It opens with the National Protection Squad (NPS) arresting the infamous and enigmatic terrorist Ali Saeed. While that’s going on, wide-eyed rookie agent Nida Rahim has joined the NPS, hoping to do her very best to serve her nation. But she soon finds that her duty to the NPS may ask far too much of her. Her beliefs, her family and even her very soul may be at risk. After Saeed’s arrest, Nida and team are tasked with interrogating the man to uncover intelligence. Little do they know that Saeed is a more than a match for them as they soon realize that the man is possessed by an otherworldly entity. Secrets will be revealed and faith will be tested as Nida and team come into contact with the Ghoul.
This shouldn’t work. Really, it shouldn’t but it does! What really sells the premise for me is the smart and ambitious script. Embedded in Ghoul is a thoughtful and fascinating sub-text about sacred and secular divides. As India becomes more modern and the state grows in power, the representatives of this regime are confronted with the frightening power and relevancy of the religious and spiritual aspects of the culture. That being said, the show does have the “sceptical authorities until its too late” cliché but given the context of the show, it does make sense. A minor annoyance in an otherwise well-written narrative.
Ghoul also keeps a tight and effective number of scares in between its military and bureaucratic threads. One thing that must be said is that the show makes no illusions of the supernatural occurrences happening all in the heads of the main characters. In the second episode aptly named “The Nightmare Will Begin”, we see the full weight of the terror that the NPS has to deal with. The escalation from Saeed’s sinister mind games with the interrogators to surveillance malfunction to a full-blown appearance of the creature itself was a thoroughly entertaining ride. Even at times when it dips into the realm of the predictable, there’s still a lot of wicked joy to be extracted when shit hits the fan.
Ghoul benefits with its claustrophobic setting inside a military facility. Production company Blumhouse’s involvement in the miniseries is clear to see here. The studio has had a reputation of working in small scale, low budget horror films and making the most of them. Some of their more notable works have been the Insidious series, Get Out and Split. Ghoul employs an almost haunted house sort of method to the way it moves from narrow corridors to dark rooms waiting to become slaughterhouses. If you’ve seen any of their films in the past, you know what you’re in for in terms of how scares are set up. That being said, they do not skimp on the effects budget here. From costume design to gory makeup, the show oozes creepy and unsettling while keeping realism in mind.
Radhika Apte is fine as Rida Nahim, though the whole plucky rookie agent character is a little passe if you ask me. Her character arc does take her to very interesting places, however, with her becoming disillusioned with the system she has come to trust. The ending certainly leaves the show with a lot of room to grow. Nahim’s story isn’t over just yet. So much of this show hinges on actor Mahesh Balraj as the host of the titular Ghoul. Balraj brings a quiet confidence to his character especially when he’s messing with Nida and the hot-headed Colonel Dacunha. I do wish we had more time to see Balraj as Saeed. It all goes away when his dark partner rises to the surface.
Ghoul has a lot of good ideas but for now, it’s a little too early to say that they are fully developed. Without giving too much away, the miniseries ends on a note that will definitely polarize the audience. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Ghoul may just abandon the traditional horror roots to go for something a little more action-packed. Furthermore, as entertaining as Ghoul is, it does at times feel like an extended horror movie, jumpscares and all. It certainly would have benefitted from having a longer run than the miserly three episodes afforded to the show. If you’re looking for an above average horror miniseries and you’re sick of American Horror Story on FOX, then this just might be the thing for you. It’s a smart, scary good time, even when it is a tad on the nose. You can catch Ghoul on Netflix today!
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Ghoul has a lot of good ideas, interesting character arcs and a decent amount of scares. With a bit more focus and time, Ghoul could become something truly terrifying and terrific. A commendable start nonetheless.