'Virupaksha': A familiar horror formula with a fresh twist

Horror movies featuring village folklore and ancestral stories have been a successful formula in Indian cinema, particularly in South Indian films. These stories often revolve around a mysterious village with a dark, eerie past, where villagers live in ignorance until a hero emerges to save them from haunting forces. This well-worn trope is exemplified by the Telugu film ‘Arundhati’, starring Anushka Shetty. The 2023 movie ‘Virupaksha’, directed by Karthik Varma Dandu and starring Sai Dharam Tej and Samyuktha, follows a similar structure but with a different The movie is set in the 1990s, with another storyline unfolding in the 1970s. Surya (Sai Dharam Tej) returns to his mother’s village, Rudravanam, and quickly falls in love with Nandini (Samyuktha). When a series of mysterious deaths begin to plague the village, Surya realizes that a malevolent force is at work and sets out to uncover the root cause.

The movie starts off well, quickly establishing Surya as a heroic figure. However, he isn’t portrayed as a typical high-powered hero with superhuman abilities; instead, he is a normal young man who rises to the occasion due to the circumstances, which is a positive aspect of the film. What feels a bit off is how quickly Surya falls for Nandini, leaving little time to build any real chemistry between the characters. Soon after, eerie events begin to unfold in the village. The film avoids typical ghost scares and jump scares, instead building fear through the story and its atmosphere, which is quite effective.

The movie falls into clichés at times, but Karthik manages to keep it engaging. The first half of the film is an excellent setup, perfectly capturing the atmosphere and suspense. Even seemingly random shots, like a dead scorpion or a woman with an itchy ear, eventually contribute to the story’s meaning.
In the second half, the movie begins to lag as much of the plot becomes predictable. For a film like this to stand out, it needs to offer something unique, but unfortunately, Virupaksha does not. However, the cinematography, Ajaneesh Loknath’s background score, Navin Nooli’s editing, and the remarkable sound design help maintain interest and deliver occasional chills. The story, heavy with flashbacks to unravel key plot points, uses these reveals effectively to sidestep some clichéd tropes.

Regarding performances, Sai Dharam Tej delivers an impressive performance, although his character remains consistent throughout, offering limited acting scope. On the other hand, Samyuktha’s role is more demanding, and she rises to the challenge, delivering a strong performance.
One aspect that feels lacking in the movie is the absence of a strong connection with the hero; there isn’t enough material to make us root for him. In ‘Arundhati’, we are given a compelling story that makes us continually hope for the main character’s triumph. This element is somewhat missing in ‘Virupaksha’. Despite this, the movie remains a solid entertainer, keeping you engaged until the end.

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