Usha (Sarita Choudhury) loves her daughter more than anything in the world and lives in her fear that her daughter will find herself in the same terrifyingly abusive relationship she experienced as a young woman. Evil Eye takes the cyclical nature of abuse and, using traditional Indian culture as a backdrop, invokes concepts of reincarnation and karma to portray the evils of domestic violence as being literally reborn and visited upon each generation. Unfortunately, as much as directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani introduce a fascinating premise, the emotional impact of the story is blunted by underdeveloped characters, a muddled climax, and a frustrating lack of action.
Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is in a lot of ways the typical representation of a first-generation Indian-American. She rejects traditional matchmaking and has a very Western concept that relationships should begin and evolve organically, without parental oversight and scrupulous horoscope compatibility tests. But at the same time, she feels an overwhelming desire to get married. She wants to get her mother off her back, yet she also has a strong desire to make her mother proud of her.
That she has both an independent streak and constant approval-seeking behavior is understandable, but it also means that she has a tendency to make a relationship get serious fast. Sandeep (Omar Maskati) seems perfect. He comes from a similar background to Pallavi and is wealthy, kind, and generous. So Pallavi jumps headfirst, eager to fulfill her mother’s expectations of marriage and a family. But when you take a relationship to the next level before you know the person very well, it’s easy to miss warning signs. By the time red flags start to pop up, you’re in too deep.
There’s little indication that Sandeep is going to be an abusive partner to Pallavi; we are led to believe this not because we’re shown any compelling evidence, but because the filmmakers are clearly tugging on our shirt sleeves and pulling us in that direction. The narrative tension is entirely unearned. And the practical result of this is that it makes Usha look crazy not just to her family and friends, but to us. That feels like a major misstep. If we were given a few more breadcrumbs, on the other hand, Evil Eye would be much more satisfying. The question would become not “do we believe her?” but rather the exhilarating frustration of “how does no one believe her?” The latter lets us in on the action (while still ideally leaving a tiny bit of room for doubt), while the other leaves us out in the cold entirely.
As compelling as this interpretation of patterns of abuse is, Evil Eye leaves a lot to be desired in terms of showing its work. The definition of reincarnation is incredibly inconsistent, and it muddles the characterization of Sandeep. It’s difficult, for instance, to gauge how much his actions (especially early on) are born of his own maliciousness and how much they are a result of the life that came before him. Where does he end, and his past life begin? In general, it’s clumsily executed, an issue that is only exacerbated by the fact that his persona seems to turn on a dime.
But perhaps most importantly, there’s a full hour before we even get to any action, where mother and daughter exchange Facetimes and take turns being exasperated by one another. The dynamic of their relationship is clear from their very first conversation, yet various iterations of the same argument take place over and over. It may be a realistic depiction of how we dance around topics and constantly relitigate the same conflicts, but it doesn’t necessarily make for exciting storytelling. It’s great that these directors were able to put their own cultural stamp on a psychological thriller, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that there just isn’t enough substance here to support a feature-length narrative.