Ludo played at Fantastic Fest 2015 from 25th September.
Using something as inconsequential as a board game as inspiration for a film seems a bit odd. In an industry where most movie-bods find it difficult coming up with a couple of hours’ worth of meaningful entertainment based on something more tangible like a book or a play, Hollywood’s penchant for creative barrel-scraping seems to be reaching its nadir. After the debacle that was the tuneless-musical-punch-bag-Rhianna-starring Battleship, you’d think they’d learnt their lesson. But no. There’s even talk of a film based on Monopoly. Which will probably feature a fight over who wants to be the car, followed by six hours of jail, fine-paying and bored characters flicking hotels at each other.
Even other countries don’t seem to be immune to the idea. Take contemporary Indian filmmakers Q(arshiq Mukherjee) and Nikon. You know they’re part of the trendy new wave of movie movers and shakers because they’ve abbreviated their name to a single letter and a make of camera.
Look how it worked for McG!
Using, of all things, the ancient Indian board game Ludo as their inspiration, Q The Winged Serpent and Camera Boy spin a silly tale that’s a bit like Hellraiser by way of Jumanji, but without any of the former’s perverse pleasures and none of the latter’s Robin Williams being chased by mischievous car-jacking monkeys.
Instead we have four desperate, horny teenagers in modern-day India looking for a place to get laid. Marauding around the big city on their mopeds to blaring rock music, drinking, swearing, getting harassed by the local cops and turned away from every hotel because none of them are married, Babai, Pele, Ria and Payal end up in a deserted shopping mall in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, their carnal activities are rudely interrupted by a shambolic couple who entice them into a rather awkward game of Ludo (or Parcheesi as it is known in the West).
But whereas the object of the original board game was to get all your tokens to the finishing square, the mysterious odd couple have devised their own rules, where the winner gets to munch on the guts and tongues of their hapless victims in a desperate bid to feed the curse of their own immortality.
There’s only one thing duller than Ludo. Watching others playing Ludo.
The ridiculously monikered Q and Nikon must at least be applauded for giving us some insight into present-day India, a country rife with poverty, economically trying to get on its own two feet whilst dealing with the cultural tug-of-war between old-school values and the latest generation’s attempts to escape the shackles of tradition by seeking solace in ‘morally bankrupt’ Western ideals. There’s even a veiled commentary on India’s dubious treatment of women, if you look hard enough. And using horror as the prism through which to address these intriguing social mores is a potentially neat way of saying something relevant whilst giving its intended audience a hair-raising time.
At least, that’s what I think Ludo is striving for. Adopting the usual hyper-active shooting style all the attention-deficit cool kids like nowadays, alongside an editing technique that suggests Nikon suffered one too many seizures in the cutting room, the energy and exhilaration of cruising through downtown India gives way to the disjointed, disorientating nightmare that awaits our luckless young quartet.
“Look. There’s nothing in the rules that says you can eat my tongue if you wi- oh wait, here it is. Oh well, rules are rules… I guess.”
But in reality all Q’s and Nikon’s efforts to create some kind of atmospheric dreamy aesthetic boils down to turning the lights down so low you can’t make anything out, using different lens filters so things keep going blurry, and making the camera go a bit wobbly from time to time. Adding in a ludicrously over-expository last third which completely ruins any mystery or ambiguity it had going for it, Ludo’s descent towards a metaphysical nightmare flits between past and present, jamming scenes together piecemeal, veering more towards confusion than coherence – which may be their point.
Unfortunately, rather than the gritty, authentic almost guerrilla-like filmmaking it could have been, Ludo comes across as amateurish dreck, akin to a cheap, gore-soaked heavy metal video where everyone staggers around in a fit of the hysterics, screaming, covered in blood whilst spouting portentous dialogue about ancient curses and oh, the pain… oh, the hunger… woe is me… pass me another eyeball, will you?
This… this isn’t the joyous, elaborate Bollywood number I was expecting. Where’s Amitabh Bachchan when you need him?
These days it takes a lot for horror to affect our non-plussed seen-it-all-before generation. Simply putting an Indian spin on the well-worn horror trope of punishing the promiscuous and sinful isn’t enough if you haven’t the filmmaking chops to back it up. Taking itself far too seriously as it tries to ape such Western fright flicks like Saw and Zathura, Ludo’s clumsy attempts to disturb your tiny mind are more likely to engender derisive chuckles rather than squeeze the mother-loving terror juice out of you. You can’t find much profundity in a board game, and it would take a monumental feat of creativity to mine compelling drama and make you care about a bunch of obnoxious, sex-obsessed teenagers playing Extreme Ludo with a couple of cannibalistic tramps. Much like most board games, Ludo winds up being a bit dull to the point you don’t care who wins, you just want it to end.