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A creepy three-part anthology which is actually constructed from a trio of German-produced independent short films that form a narrative around a mysterious cult in 1983 India as a wrap-around story. In the first story "Shakti", a reporter talks to an institutionalized cult survivor who claims to have murdered her boyfriend. In the second story "Devi", a man awakens from a therapy session to discover that he's been beaten senseless and held prisoner by his evil therapist. In the third story "Kali", a faith healer exorcises a spirit from a person only to discover that he has released it into his cellar. Written by
Very good schlock, but a very disappointing "masterpiece"
I don't quite get the hyperbole of some of the reviews of this film on either end. Tears of Kali is not at all a slightly flawed masterpiece, but it doesn't completely suck, either.
On the low budget and cheesy end, aspects of the film play like a stereotypical Uwe Boll flick; it's difficult to not cynically think of this as another German tax shelter film. Stylistically and atmospherically, Tears of Kali occupies a weird middle ground between recent microbudget schlock like Insaniac (2002), The Crucifier (2005) and The Bonesetter (2003), and a major studio, high-budget horror film. If you watch it expecting microbudget schlock, as I did after seeing the DVD title screen sequence (like most films, I purposefully avoided knowing much about the film before I popped it into my DVD player), you'll be impressed with the level of professionalism exhibited. But if you've only watched major studio, high-budget horror, it's entirely understandable that you'd come to the conclusion that this is one of the worst films ever. The bottom line, then, is that you should probably only watch Tears of Kali after you've watched at least a dozen or so microbudget films. That way the technical clunkiness, the relative incoherence of much of the story, and the numerous other problems with the script, performances, direction, editing and so on won't be such culture shock, and you'll be able to better appreciate what Tears of Kali does get right.
The premise of the film and even many ways in which the story is developed are impressive. There are a lot of good ideas here, both plotwise and structurally. I'm a fan of "anthology" films as well as television shows like The Twilight Zone, The Hitchhiker and Tales from the Crypt, so the fact that the script is broken up into three separate but related stories along with bookended segments worked well for me. Writer/director Andreas Marschall even weaves in a fair amount of sophisticated, nuanced threads, thematically and more literally, allowing viewers to interlock the stories more with the bookended segments in their heads as they watch.
However, Marschall errs on one serious front--the "show, don't tell" rule. Far too much of the film consists of people talking about interesting events that we do not get to see. The first story after the opening bookend is especially guilty of this, and it doesn't help that the story being told is fairly complex and kinda gobbledy-gooky (it hinges, as does the whole film, on a maybe ridiculous but fun mixture of mystic, new-agey psychology, cults and a couple ideas from Indian religions), and it doesn't help that the story being told has lots of characters, most of whom have odd names (and the film doesn't have the greatest English dubbing job, and the DVD has no subtitles).
Surely the show-don't-tell violation was chosen to keep the budget down. Even with the bookends, Marschall only needed four settings, most limited to just a couple rooms, and he avoided having to hire lots of extras, having to work his way through complicated logistical issues of location shooting and so on. While that's a good excuse for limiting the film, it's not a good enough excuse to violate the "show don't tell" rule in the way that it's violated here, because it seriously hurts the film.
Horror fans who enjoy gore and special effects will also find enough to like here, as long as they're not the kind of gorehound who gets wrapped up in arguments about what film is the goriest. Quite a few scenes are a bit brutal and difficult to watch, and especially compared to most microbudget films, the effects and make-up are extremely impressive. Each story hinges on some twist of character or another that results in a good, suspenseful and visceral extended sequence. Marschall has his mechanics down well for those kinds of scenes, with the exception that occasionally "battle" scenes are a bit too choppy and blurry. In terms of visceralness, the bookended sequences reminded me a bit of the Nix-cult scenes in Lord of Illusions (1995), but unfortunately they're not shot, acted or constructed quite as well.
In any event, if you're a horror fanatic to the extent that you're a completist--that is, you try to see every horror film ever made--there's plenty to enjoy in Tears of Kali as long as you're generously forgiving. By definition, though, you must be generously forgiving of horror in general to be that kind of fan (otherwise you wouldn't subject yourself to all of those schlocky films, and that's pretty undeniably a large number of films). If you can the positives to fare like The Christmas Season Massacre (2001) or Silo Killer (2002), then you'll find plenty of positives in Tears of Kali, too. Just don't expect anything close to a masterpiece.
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