Tag Archives: Tripti Dimri

The Films the Oscars Forgot, Part 2

My top five films overlooked by the Oscars have some commonalities. Four are by women. Four are by directors who wrote or co-wrote the screenplay. Four are international productions. Four squarely have feminist themes running through them, though not in the ways we’d expect. All five deal with trauma survivors in remarkably different ways – a war orphan and found family, migrants confronting domestic abuse, a woman being stalked as her support system evaporates, the survivor of a school shooting, a musician rejected by her own family for being a daughter instead of a son.

Once again, this features only films that received no Oscar nomination whatsoever. Each of these films is remarkable and will stay with me. Each is one I’ll revisit again:

The Girl from the Other Side: Siuil, a Run

directed by Kubo Yutaro
written by Maiya Satomi, Nagabe

A perfect fairy tale, dark and caring with no easy answers. A little girl named Shiva is alone in the forest, orphaned by war. Creatures that can curse you with a touch lurk here. One such beast discovers Shiva, but being kinder than the others he decides to care for her.

He can’t remember his life, his name, his family, or anything but the loneliness of his curse. Scared she will fall to the same fate, he is determined to return Shiva to humans. Neither his own kind nor the humans make this easy.

The film is short at an hour and 10 minutes, and you can tell it’s on a budget. That hardly matters when the shot choice is this good, the visuals this unique, and its use of light and shadow can make a single moment blossom with emotional implication.

“The Girl from the Other Side” is gorgeous in aesthetic and spellbinding in its storytelling. Watching it reminds me of the feeling I got when I watched “The Last Unicorn” for the first time as a kid. I felt a genuine threat of not knowing what was going to happen, and a sense of things I couldn’t put words to back then, but I might now: Some stories can make you feel as if you absorb fragments of the stillness and grace its characters possess in the midst of chaos. I can only describe that feeling as a fusion of heartbreak and reassurance. A good fairy tale can balance us on the precipice between the two, and “The Girl from the Other Side” is a perfect balance.

You can watch it on Crunchyroll. It came out as a film, but in the U.S., it’s divided into three episodes – probably because our viewers are more likely to watch when it’s presented that way.

Nudo Mixteco

written/directed by Angeles Cruz

Sometimes late at night, after watching a good movie, I come across a still moment and I just feel kindness. As in: the storyteller understood these people that the whole world passes by. She was kind to them when you or I might not even notice the opportunity to be kind. She saw them and said, “You exist, I see you,” and Angeles Cruz is a strong enough artist to help the rest of us notice.

“Nudo Mixteco” is composed of three loosely connected vignettes. Each centers on a migrant worker coming home to their town in Oaxaca. The events in one story don’t trigger those in another, as we often see in American ensemble stories. Instead, their connection as parts of the story develop our better understanding of a community and its generational history. This is common in Latin American literature. The stories are related not because they shape each other, but because they shape and reshape how we perceive each.

Much of what’s tackled in the film are realizations of women’s sexuality and their agency within a Mixtec town. The implications of so many small moments in the film don’t dawn on us until later – not because of a plot development, but because we understand a character and what they’ve been through better. As we understand the lives they left and have returned to, our ability to infer what those moments mean grows: what a man glancing at a woman tells us about his fidelity away, what a woman’s nausea tells us about her own history.

“Nudo Mixteco” sees real people more clearly than perhaps any other film this year, but they don’t give awards for that.


directed by Chloe Okuno
written by Zack Ford, Chloe Okuno

“Watcher” got lost in the shuffle because it came out within weeks of Netflix’s aggressively mediocre “The Watcher”. The film “Watcher” is a masterpiece of slow burn horror. It builds around how women’s real concerns for their safety are brushed under the rug and dismissed as hysteria.

Julia moves with her husband to Bucharest, Romania. Alone in their new apartment, she spies a man watching out his window. Is he watching her? The city? Is he the same as the one she thinks is following her? Is she building paranoia from feeling stressed and alienated, or is her husband alienating her as a response to her legitimate fear?

Maika Monroe stars, meaning the “It Follows” actress has now led two of the most important horror films of her generation. She is superb and adds real heft to a role that’s historically been played far more breathy and helpless.

The premise may reflect “Rear Window”, but the film itself mirrors some of the best giallo horror of the 70s, such as “Deep Red” and “Don’t Look Now”. For all its style, “Watcher” feels grounded and consequential. The horror isn’t unstoppable, but neither is Julia skilled or brave. They’re both limited like most of us are, so much of the horror is played out in who believes Julia. The more she reaches out for her support system and authorities that are supposed to help, the more they shirk responsibility. The foundation upon which “Watcher” is built is a very real world horror that women have to survive.

This makes “Watcher” feel much more terrifying as it edges closer and closer to bursting into the type of horror movie we recognize. Aiding this is one of the most effective soundscapes of the year, a use of subtle white noise and room tone that finds its way under your skin and becomes deeply unsettling. “Watcher” is the tensest film of the year. It inverts much of what we expect horror to be in a way that makes a hell of a point and escalates what we’re familiar with to a level of sheer terror. And it has the best closing shot of the year.

The Fallout

written/directed by Megan Park

I want to call “The Fallout” timely, but since the cycle of school shootings at its heart is endless in the U.S., I’m not sure there’s a moment when it wouldn’t be. I’ve rarely seen a film tackle a traumatic topic better. It does so from the eyes of Vada, who doesn’t have it in her to turn her experience of survival into a fight for justice or change. It’s all she can do to get back to any kind of normal. She processes her experiences through the filter of teenage hormones and a mix of building and burning bridges.

At its heart is Jenna Ortega’s performance as Vada. Ortega’s getting recognition for “Wednesday” and “Scream”, as she should. With five films and a series, playing wildly different roles in each, she was the performer of the year in a way no one’s been in ages. Her role in “The Fallout” is one of the best and most realistic performances of coping with trauma that’s ever been put to screen, down to the way post-traumatic tremors just become a chronic norm of her existence.

There’s a scene where she lies to her therapist in order to convince herself she’s fine, and it’s revealingly desperate yet guarded. She embodies both reaching out for help and slapping away any hand that’s offered because she needs to regain control of her surroundings, and you can’t regain control when the person helping you is driving. She needs the help, but she also needs to recapture expressing her agency strongly enough to reject it. Ortega’s is such a psychologically complex realization of someone stuck in the push-and-pull between these contrary needs, and she acts them as if clinging on to survival. Her not being nominated is the most glaring oversight of the Oscars, but “The Fallout” is in the class of film that the Oscars routinely ignore.

Maddie Ziegler, who you may know from her youth as a dancer on TV and in Sia music videos, also surprises with what should’ve been recognized as a superb supporting performance.

The filmmaking retains an indie ethos that feels rarer in recent years, one that’s been supplanted by a “studio indie” vibe over the last decade-plus. Writer-director Megan Park’s intact sense of experimentation and confrontation is key to telling stories about young adults because it goes outside a formula to portray contentious and lost characters. So much of YA work has figured out how to convey themes from the inside of the system out, and that’s important, but we still need movies like “The Fallout” that tackle their stories and perspectives from the outside-in.

“The Fallout” brilliantly portrays the often incomplete stages of coping with trauma, while reflecting a broader trauma our children endure today in the name of money the gun lobby dumps into politics.


directed by Anvita Dutt
written by Muhammad Asif Ali, Anvita Dutt

Gothic horror doesn’t hide its monsters from you, it tells you how they came to be. There’s no twist that you can’t already identify yourself. Instead, gothic horror tells us how its monsters costume themselves in human forms, a humanity they only recognize as those who named them monsters in the first place. Musicals don’t allow characters to hide from each other long. They betray their characters’ forms and bring to the fore their hidden agendas.

This is the unexpected axis upon which Anvita Dutt’s gothic horror musical “Qala” turns. Qala is the inheritor to her late father’s musical legacy, but much to her mother’s humiliation, she’s not a boy. One form of abuse turns into another when her mother discovers a musically talented orphan boy she can adopt and use to replace Qala. Suddenly Qala is disposable, to be married off and forgotten. How does she get from there to become a celebrated film singer?

Even if the music is compartmentalized within performances, those performances always betray what’s really going on. Why do that when its gothic horror explicitly tells us? Because its monster isn’t hiding from us, it’s hiding from herself.

With “Bulbbul” and now “Qala”, Dutt and lead actress Triptii Dimri have created two very different feminist gothic horrors, each asking us to understand the necessity and tragedy of its “monsters”. Dimri’s monster in “Bulbbul” was righteous and right. Her monster in “Qala” is much more complicated. She reflects and repeats abuses because this is how she’s been taught the world works. Her actions are the result of learning at her mother’s feet how disposable she is. Her survival is a mix of emulating her mother’s actions, even when a pale imitation of her mother’s cruelty meets with her mother’s rejection and disapproval.

The monster here is less Qala and more the cycle in which she’s trapped. “Qala” isn’t about a big realization you couldn’t have guessed much earlier. Gothic horror doesn’t hide its monsters from you. Musicals don’t allow their characters to hide. They tell you how a monster comes to be. In illustrating the cycle of abusing and rejecting daughters, it reflects a horrific monster that much of the world maintains and practices. This is how Dutt makes gothic horror that’s both classic and evolved. The monster in “Qala” is only hiding in the forms we taught her, costumed in the humanity that surrounds her. What’s horrific and monstrous about her is a reflection of what surrounds her.

“Qala” is a technical marvel, with astounding cinematography, set design, and costuming. Dutt has arguably become our most important horror director working today. I’ve compared Dimri to Anthony Hopkins before, in her ability to glance across the camera and let you know, “Watch this, watch what I can do” before a character bites. That ability to loose sheer will onto the screen lets her turn a film on a dime, from one where everyone’s acting for the audience into one where everyone’s acting for her character, where we as audience turn from viewer to enabler. It is awesome and frightening, and Dutt and Dimri might be the best director-actor pairing going today.

Honorable Mentions/Films I Missed

There are so many honorable mentions. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s “Do Revenge” is a remarkable teen comedy and satire about performative allyship that boasts a sharp screenplay reminiscent of “Clueless” if it were out for blood.

Ti West’s duology of horror movies “X” and “Pearl” both star Mia Goth and take us through unexpected relationships between different eras of cinema and the adult film industry.

Jordan Peele is ever-reliable and “Nope” continues his string of exceptional horror movies. It says something when someone’s worst reviews are for a film still considered borderline-great.

There are still other films I haven’t seen yet: journalism drama “She Said”, the Lithuanian sci-fi “Vesper”, Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future”.

No list like this is ever going to be complete, and that goes to my point in what the Oscars miss. They dismiss many films, particularly indie and international films that don’t fit their eligibility requirements and especially films made by women because they don’t match the mentality of nominating the same, old perspectives over and over again.

The Oscars got their top choice right this year, but that’s not a reliable habit on their part, and they’re not getting the nominations as a whole right when just four of the last 65 Best Director nominees are woman, when just one of 10 Best Picture nominees was directed by a woman, when just two of 18 people nominated in the Best Screenplay categories were women, when only three women have ever been nominated for Best Cinematography, when only 20% of Best Editing nominees are women.

If you think Hollywood lacks originality, the answer is there: seek out the perspectives that are original because they’ve rarely been featured before, because they bring new perspectives than the ones that we’ve platformed and awarded. Those films are being made and ultimately, what the Oscars missed is a framework to highlight this other work that is out there, that is creative, that is original, that gives you access to 100% of the talent making films instead of just 50%. Why would any of us trap ourselves into having so little, enjoying so little, when there’s so much more filmmaking and filmmaking that’s so much more expansive. What the Oscars miss is just a useful lens for what we miss. There is so much more out there to see.

Read Part 1, which features five more films the Oscars forgot.

Subscribe to my Patreon! It helps with the time and resources to write more articles like this.

Empathy for the Abyss — “Qala”

As I write about “Qala”, I keep having that moment where I feel…how the hell do I convey the experience of watching it? Qala is an immensely popular singer on Indian films in the 30s. She was raised by her mother to continue her father’s musical legacy, until her mother found an orphan boy whose maleness offered an easier path. What’s Qala’s own road to success after she’s forgotten and discarded within her own family?

But describing “Qala” doesn’t tell you what it’s like to witness it. The Hindi-language film is immediately one of the best musicals and horror films I’ve seen. It’s not a musical where everyone breaks into song, but it’s more focused on music and performance than most musicals where that does happen.

I’ve seen musicals that meld with horror before, usually in campy, fun ways that reassure and comfort. “Qala” has some of the most beautiful, gossamer-silky songs I’ve heard, their comfort, peace, and elegance increasingly transformed by story, performance, and meaning into tension, abandonment, desperation. The music here conveys horror in a way I’ve never seen or felt.

But praising “Qala” doesn’t tell you what it’s like to sit there as it reshapes itself as only the best gothic horrors can, or how its beautiful, classically-minded Indian songs evoke quiet screams from inner landscapes. “Qala” is a “Frankenstein” or “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” or “The Invisible Man” emotionally codified to represent how women must switch between each in a world that sets them aside for men, trades them to be rid of them, expects servitude in exchange for opportunity.

In her two films, writer-director Anvitaa Dutt has clarified that the physical fantasies of torn identity in gothic horror are emotional realities for women. Her approach to horror isn’t one of surprising you with the twist. She brings you in on the ‘what’ of things pretty early so she can tell you the ‘why’ and ‘how’. Her horrors are about the very real ones that force those in fiction to arise.

Like the best of Guillermo del Toro and Julie Taymor, Dutt finds a way to fuse the relentlessly stylized to the utterly human. Much of this rests in her trust in Triptii Dimri, the lead who carries Qala through vast emotional ranges. In my review for “Bulbbul”, I compared Dimri to Anthony Hopkins in a particular way. Each knows that if you pick the right moment to go over the top, you can change the mechanics of how people watch a film. You can act a character in such a way that makes those around them act for her. By choosing moments where the supporting cast becomes audience not through structure or script, but simply through sheer will of a lead performer, we take up our seats as support – or even enabler – and become a part of that world.

By shattering our immersion with precision, that immersion re-forms with a greater gravity, encompassing us. What once laid outside our suspension of disbelief now orbits the performer. These performances move the norms of our immersion. Few performers can pull that off. Dimri is one of them. Few directors know how to empower this. Dutt is one of them. Usually it’s lightning in a bottle for such an actor and director to find each other. It’s even rarer still to maintain such a charged balance for long. Across two films now, Dimri and Dutt may’ve become the best actor-director pair working today.

But telling you that doesn’t communicate what it’s like to experience “Qala”. A lot of what I write for film begins as a meander. At some point, I know I’ll lock into a groove that embodies something about the film. I find a handhold, and then recenter my thoughts around that path into the film. Anything written before this gets cut or edited around that route, because a description or analysis means very little without conveying something about the experience of what it’s like to sit and watch.

But “Qala” is sheer, indivisible. It’s not impenetrable, it’s very easy to access, but to pull at any of its layers risks losing the context and empathy that shape them all. Pulling any single thread enough to show it to you misshapes the others. As elevated and wide-ranging as its style can be, there’s something pristinely real and consequential about the shape of “Qala”, something that makes us commiserate and understand horrible things because how else does one escape horror if it’s all they know?

A handhold into “Qala” feels like it swallows your arm. The film is sumptuous, if a film that feels like drowning could ever be described that way. The best way to describe “Qala” would be through a book of thoughts and reflections, or the kind of brief poem a poet only ever gets right once or twice in their life. The best way I have to describe “Qala” is that I can’t, not fully. I’m not sure I’d want to. What’s the emotional route into quicksand? How do you review an abyss? How do you describe awe except to say you were there to feel it?

You can watch “Qala” on Netflix.

If you enjoy articles like this, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write more.

New Shows + Movies by Women — December 2, 2022

This year, the holidays start with heartwarming movies about love stories, male strippers, and British people having affairs. We’re covering the last two weeks, since last week was a holiday.

I’m going to split off holiday movies into a separate article, since there are so many of them. That’ll make each more manageable, both for me and hopefully for readers.

This week, new series by women come from Canada, Finland, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S., and new films by women from Australia, India, Mexico, the U.K., and the U.S.


First Love (Netflix)
showrun/directed by Kanchiku Yuri

High school students Yae and Harumichi fall in love in the late 90s. Yae goes to college, and Harumichi joins Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. 20 years after a tragic accident, Yae works as a taxi driver and Harumichi is employed by a security company. They live in the same city, dreaming of what their lives could have been like even as they encounter each other once again.

Kanchiku Yuri has written and directed a few Japanese series, including procedural “Keishicho Shissonin Sosaka” and “L et M”.

You can watch “First Love” on Netflix. All 9 episodes are out.

Welcome to Chippendales (Hulu)
showrunner Jenni Konner
half directed by Nisha Ganatra, Gwyneth Horder-Payton

Kumail Nanjiani stars as Somen Banerjee, the entrepreneur who started the Chippendales male stripper business in the 1980s. The series reflects the real-life story, which descended into murder for hire, arson, and racketeering.

Showrunner Jenni Konner has written and produced on “Single Drunk Female” and “Girls”.

Gwyneth Horder-Payton, director on “Pose”, “American Horror Story”, “Pam & Tommy”, and “The Offer” directs two episodes. “Dollface” and “The High Note” director Nisha Ganatra directs another two.

You can watch “Welcome to Chippendales” on Hulu. Three episodes are out, with a new one arriving every Tuesday for a total of 8.

Three Pines (Amazon)
showrunner Emilia di Girolamo

Alfred Molina plays Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (on par in Canada with a Poirot in the UK). He investigates murders in Three Pines, a Quebec village hiding long-buried travesties of its own. This adaptation of the Louise Penny novels gives room to indigenous voices, including a mystery of the disappearance of an indigenous girl, and performances by Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Tantoo Cardinal, and Anna Lambe.

Showrunner and writer Emilia di Girolamo also wrote and produced on “The Tunnel” and “Deceit”. Her background is incredibly interesting, with a PhD in the rehabilitation of offenders using drama based techniques.

You can watch “Three Pines” on Amazon Prime. Two episodes are out, and a new one arrives every Thursday.

Riches (Amazon)
showrunner Abby Ajayi

A patriarch’s stroke leaves his family contending for a cosmetics empire he’s left to two children he abandoned decades ago.

Showrunner Abby Ajayi has previously written and produced on “Inventing Anna” and “The First Lady”.

You can watch “Riches” on Amazon Prime. All 6 episodes are out.

Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin (Peacock)
showrunner Megan Amram

Adam Devine, Sarah Hyland, and Jameela Jamil star in a spinoff of the “Pitch Perfect” movies. Devine’s character Bumper moves to Germany after one of his songs becomes a hit there.

Showrunner Megan Amram produced and wrote on “The Good Place” and wrote on “Parks and Rec”.

You can watch “Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin” on Peacock. All 6 episodes are out.

The Flatshare (Paramount+)
showrunner Rose Lewenstein
half directed by Chloe Wicks

Two people share an apartment, but even though they share a bed, their careers and lives mean they’ve never met.

Showrunner Rose Lewenstein and director Chloe Wicks (who helms 3 of the 6 episodes) worked together previously on “On the Edge”.

You can watch “The Flatshare” on Paramount+.

Transport (Acorn TV)
showrunner/directed by Auli Mantila

This Finnish crime series finds a reporter tracing a microchip found in baby food. Elsewhere, a bank manager is drawn into an illegal scheme, and a veterinarian goes missing. These leads all tie into the illicit horse trade.

You can watch “Transport” on Acorn TV. All 8 episodes are out.


Qala (Netflix)
directed by Anvitaa Dutt

A singer with a burgeoning career contends with the expectations of those around her, including her controlling mother. Triptii Dimri stars.

A longtime songwriter and screenwriter on Hindi films, Anvitaa Dutt added directing with the 2020 horror mystery “Bulbbul”. Triptii Dimri also starred there in what I thought was one of the most overlooked performances that year. Dutt and Dimri are a must-watch combination in my book.

You can watch “Qala” on Netflix.

The Swimmers (Netflix)
directed by Sally El Hosaini

Two sisters training for the Olympics flee the Syrian civil war in 2015. Yusra and Sarah travel through Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece before their overcrowded boat breaks down and the swimmers tow it to safety. A year later, Yusra competes in the Olympics for the Refugee team.

The story sounds like something that could only be created for film, but those are the real details of Yusra Mardini’s life. She fled Syria with her sister and they were two of four swimmers who towed 16 others to safety.

Director and co-writer Sally El Hosaini also helmed “My Brother the Devil”.

You can watch “The Swimmers” on Netflix.

Mr. Malcolm’s List (Showtime)
directed by Emma Holly Jones

Based on the novel by Suzanne Allain, a young woman named Selina courts a mysterious and much-discussed suitor in 19th century England. Secretly, she’s aiming for revenge on behalf of a friend – a just return for the suitor’s impossible list of preconditions for a future wife. Freida Pinto and Sope Dirisu star.

The novel was self-published by Allain in 2009, and her adapted screenplay floated for nearly a decade until Jones shot a short film of it. The short film’s success – with 2 million views – led to the novel’s traditional publishing in 2020 and the production of the full-length feature.

You can watch “Mr. Malcolm’s List” on Showtime.

Please Baby Please (VOD)
directed by Amanda Kramer

A gang obsesses over Bohemian 1950s newlyweds, thrusting them into a musical exploration of sexual identity. Andrea Riseborough, Harry Melling, and Demi Moore star.

Amanda Kramer is an experimental filmmaker who also directed “Paris Window” and “Ladyworld”.

You can rent “Please Baby Please” on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Netflix)
directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence, a woman begins an affair with the gamekeeper on her husband’s estate.

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is known for her impressive visuals in films such as “The Mustang” and episodes of “Mrs. America” and “The Act”. She started out as an actress before shifting full-time as her directing career took off.

You can watch “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” on Netflix.

How to Please a Woman (Hulu, VOD)
directed by Renee Webster

Fed up with her lot in life and freshly laid off, Gina manages an all-male combination cleaning-and-prostitution service in this Australian film.

This is writer-director Renee Webster’s first feature after directing on Australian series such as “The Heights”.

You can watch “How to Please a Woman” on Hulu, or rent it on VOD.

Who’s a Good Boy? (Netflix)
directed by Ihtzi Hurtado

Chema idealizes his crush, and is determined to lose his virginity to her before the school year ends.

Ihtzi Hurtado is a director on Mexican series and films.

You can watch “Who’s a Good Boy” on Netflix.

Alone Together (Hulu)
directed by Katie Holmes

During the pandemic, a pair of strangers in stressful relationships are booked for the same Airbnb in upstate New York. Katie Holmes, Jim Sturgess, Derek Luke, and Melissa Leo star in Holmes’s debut as a writer and second film as director.

Holmes is most famous for her roles in films like “Disturbing Behavior”, “Pieces of April”, and the series “Dawson’s Creek”.

You can watch “Alone Together” on Hulu, or rent it on VOD.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you’re reading, subscribe to my Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

When Human Horror Exceeds Our Fables — “Bulbbul”

CW: Please be aware the following review includes discussion of two topics in “Bulbbul”: child marriage and sexual assault.

How does a movie scare you with the threat of a supernatural horror when it opens with a very real one? “Bulbbul” is an Indian film set in the 1880s. It starts with a child bride being married off. It doesn’t happen in some criminal underworld, in a cult, or on the dark web as in so many other films. It takes place as a celebration, attended by nobility, decorated to an exacting detail. It takes place in the open, according to a tradition, as everyone watches smiling.

The child is Bulbbul, who is taken from her home by carriage. Here she meets Satya, a young boy. He regales her with fairy tales of a vengeful ghost, a monster who lurks in the woods at night. She’s reassured because she can connect with him. Surely, this must be her new husband. Yet when Bulbbul arrives in her new home and she’s set upon her new bed, it’s not Satya who meets her. It’s an adult man.

We’re sped along by years. An older Satya is returning to India from London. When he arrives at the home where he grew up, it’s not the same. His brothers are both gone – one missing, one murdered. His sister has become a monk. Bulbbul now runs the house in peace.

Satya has been away studying law. He believes in evidence, not rumors of a demon in the woods. So he studies it. He hunts it. He tries to put clues together. Despite being away for years, he dismisses Bulbbul, who’s been there. He tells her he knows better, that he’ll discover the killer.

“Bulbbul” understand the gothic horror framework where the aristocratic man pierces the veil of the supernatural with the logic of a well-ordered society. Yet if this well-ordered society starts with child marriage, then what is there to understand? How could that logic possibly present truths or accuracy? When it starts from a place of justifying horror, how can it be imagined that this logic could expose it instead of cover it over?

Flashbacks are frequent and skillfully done. We see the difference between Bulbbul growing up and connecting with Satya, versus the disconnect that exists between them now. It contrasts Bulbbul’s aching and emptiness then, with her satisfaction and a greater completion now.

Tripti Dimri’s performance as Bulbbul is remarkable, especially in contrasting these younger and older versions of herself. Each fits into a different archetype of gothic horror. The younger is understandably manic, alternately exuding joy before plummeting into depression and fear – like a Regency-era heroine who’s barely holding on. The older Bulbbul is calm, collected, precise, often amused.

Here, Dimri finds a precise balance to walk between the casually self-assured gothic horror hero and the sort of Anthony Hopkins-esque performance of a character who acts for the camera while others act for her. Discovering the bridge between her younger and older selves is what makes up the core of the film. While Satya may fill the typical hero’s role, the film never strays far from Bulbbul because that typical hero’s role is useless and misguided.

Does “Bulbbul” work as a horror movie? Yes, in that director Anvita Dutt does the work of shifting the anchors of horror movies in order to explore territory that’s often ignored. “Bulbbul” is extensively stylish and meticulously designed, but it’s also efficient. Gothic horrors do their best work in their extravagances, but “Bulbbul” is a movie that inherently finds extravagances are built on someone else’s suffering.

This means “Bulbbul” takes some build-up to fully convince you of its most intense genre moments. It might never fully do so. I was creeped out here and there, but there was no point where I was scared by the supernatural elements. I was aghast at the real moments, though. These are far more oppressive.

After all, it opens with a child being married off to an adult. It witnesses just a few of countless more horrors that child must face as a result. What monster could possibly be more horrible than that? What make-up effect could they put on-screen to make us scream in revulsion more than a child sitting in a bed asking who her husband is, and an adult man telling her it’s him? It’s already horror before there’s any hint of a demon, before the moon turns red, before men are hunting in the forest and being picked off one by one.

“Bulbbul” doesn’t need to be loud in its genre moments when it thunders in its quietest. It’s dressed in all the style of gothic horror, and that style is impressive, but what “Bulbbul” really becomes is a fairy tale. It’s a fable, and a powerful one. It inverts what gothic horror typically does to remind us of what gothic horror too often forgets in its obsession with style: the most brutal monster that creates all his others is man.

It could be criticized as predictable, but its effectiveness and intelligence is what makes “Bulbbul” stand out over many less predictable horror options.

It’s a pretty good horror movie. It’s a phenomenal fable.

“Bulbbul” can be watched in the U.S. on Netflix.

Does “Bulbbul” Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Bulbbul” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Tripti Dimri plays Bulbbul. Paoli Dam plays Binodini. Ruchi Mahajan plays Bulbbul as a child. There are some other, brief roles.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. Binodini and Bulbbul in particular have a complex power dynamic that shifts over time.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Among other things, they talk about each other, restrictions in their lives, and unsolved murders (of men, but I think it counts in this circumstance).

Some of what they talk about is coded speech to talk about a man without directly talking about him. This relates to the restrictions in their lives as women and the positions they’re expected to hold.

Some of what they talk about is a man, in a way that’s coded to talk about something else that they have to tiptoe around discussing.

There’s a good amount of smartly written dialogue between them that takes place along multiple layers of code – sometimes both understanding, sometimes only one.

Their dynamic is so interesting because in the past and in flashbacks, Binodini is alternately trying to protect Bulbbul while also diminishing Bulbbul’s power or sway within the house (and thus increase her own). This dynamic is completely reversed in the present, where Bulbbul is the one in control, after Binodini did something awful to suppress Bulbbul’s voice and access to justice.

The relationship presented here between them is beautifully and realistically complicated. Binodini has been victimized by a patriarchal system, recognizes how Bulbbul is being victimized by it, occasionally moves in roundabout ways to protect Bulbbul, but also understands her own power relies on this system and that she understands it and can take advantage of it better than Bulbbul can.

Binodini alternately fears that partiarchal system and loves its rewards. She both resents and loves Bulbbul, protecting her in some ways and victimizing her when she’s must choose between Bulbbul and that system. Paoli Dam hits every note of this relationship in a convincing way.

The film often centers on Bulbbul’s relationship with Satya and that is absolutely given far more screen time. The most complex and winding relationship belongs to Bulbbul and Binodini, though. It helps that Dam joins Tripti Dimri in delivering the best acting in the film, and that the script gives them such complex, coded, haunting material to work with together.

I’d also note that the film is both written and directed by Anvita Dutt. A longtime screenwriter and lyricist in the Indian film industry, “Bulbull” is her directorial debut.

Since this section can also function as a window into other forms of representation, I will say that it presents intellectual disability as a danger in a way that wasn’t necessary to getting where the film wanted to go in its story. That aspect of it is problematic.

A Note About Fighting Child Marriage

“Bulbbul” takes place in the 1880s, but it very much speaks to the world today. Child marriage is still a problem in India, with UNICEF reporting in 2017 that 27% of women in India are married by the age of 18. This relies on self-reporting, so the number is likely higher.

UNICEF also reported that 7% of women in India are married by the age of 15. That’s one in every 14 girls – and again, this relies on self-reporting, so the number is likely higher.

This isn’t just a problem in India, though. It’s not just a problem halfway around the world either. Hell, Ghislaine Maxwell was just arrested for helping Jeffrey Epstein supply the rich and powerful in Western countries with underage girls.

To learn more about how to fight this, take a look at Girls Not Brides. It’s an international organization dedicated to ending child marriage in every country. They work with many local organizations that don’t just fight child marriage, but that also fight for girls’ access to education, health care, and other resources to eliminate many of the elements that feed child marriage and other forms of victimization of girls. Please look at Girls Not Brides to know more and see what can be done to help fight this.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.