Arya in a still from the series. (Courtesy: YouTube)
A graphic novel receives an extended and heightened live-action treatment in The Village, a Tamil-language horror series top-lined by Arya. The result is anything but even - an intriguing, multi-pronged narrative punctuated with loud, laboured passages that lapse into the excessive.
Adapted for the screen by director Milind Rau, V. Deeraj Vaidy and Deepthi Govindarajan from a graphic novel by Asvin Srivatsangam, Shamik Dasgupta and Vivek Rangachari, The Village is gory, terrifying and frequently flummoxing but not as frightening as scare-fests are meant to be.
For the most part, it is a robustly mounted and competently crafted generic web series that forays into the fantasy-tinged social history of a coastal region of Tamil Nadu where the powerful prey on the weak in an environment in which superstition and subterfuge are still rampant.
The ghosts of the past that haunt the village are as figurative as they are literal. They, and the natural environs that they inhabit, are out to strike back at the world for the grave wrongs done to them decades ago. The wounds are still raw and oozy. An unsuspecting family driving through the forest in an SUV is caught in the malign crosswinds.
The six-episode Amazon Prime original show, which opens with the massacre of minivan passengers on a secluded forest road, extends the narrative notion of a haunted house to an entire coastal village that draws blood in horrific ways.
The bluish tint that imbues the opening episode pre-credits sequence is the dominant hue of The Village, but the series is frequently and expectedly bathed in a ruddy glow to convey the blistering effect of fire and heat as a contrast to the cold nocturnal air that hangs over large parts of the story.
Director of photography Sivakumar Vijayan makes exceptionally efficacious use of the swathes of darkness that The Village pans out in as well as of the shadows and silhouettes that they create.
Arya lends star power to the series, but he isn't the only one who drives The Village. Several other actors, mostly male, move to the centre of the action as the protagonist heads into the forest to save his wife and daughter from malefic forces.
A road trip for a Chennai family of three goes awry owing to a forced detour and a pair of flat tyres. The man at the wheel, Gautham (Arya), a doctor, decides to walk several miles to look for assistance - a decision that he soon has reason to regret.
He reaches a village where three men, a bar owner Peter (George Maryan), headman Sakthivel (Aadukalam Naren) and his friend Karunagam (Muthukumar K), refuse to help because of their fear of Kattiyal, a long-abandoned village from where nobody has ever come back alive.
The trio eventually relent and deign to join Gautham in his despairing search for his wife Neha (Divya Pillai) and daughter Maya (Aazhiya) who go missing along with their off-roader. The adventures of the four men in the forest form the central segment of The Village.
Another significant part of the story is peopled by a band of mercenaries and scientists. The group led by Farhan Hameed (John Kokken) includes a phlegmatic female soldier Happy (Pooja Ramachandran) and Jagan (Thalaivasal Vijay), who wants no part of what transpires as they reach the heart of the forest.
They have been despatched to the region by Prakash (Arjun Chidambaram), the scion of a Singapore-based company who has been a wheelchair user since he was a boy. Their mission is to collect samples from trees that devour humans and from a defunct factory that was once an important part of the company's assets.
The male protagonist, who is a city dweller and a man of medicine, is understandably sceptical of the stories of ghosts and spirits that are bandied about as the reason why people do not dare venture into the village of Kattiyal, which was several decades ago home to a community of exploited workers run to the ground by a tyrannical landowner.
The Village isn't so much about ghouls and spectral creatures as about grotesquely hideous mutants and baffling natural phenomena unleashed as a result of unbridled ambition and scientific overreach. It is also about two significant and virulently toxic father-son relationships.
One unfolds in the village between Sakthivel and his overbearing father, the other involves Prakash and his entrepreneur-dad. Neither of the two sons can bear the ways of their respective fathers - a fact that returns to 'haunt' them more than three decades later.
The lives of both Sakthivel and Karunagam, men from two opposite ends of the rural social spectrum, are entangled with the tragic history of the village, as is Prakash's troubled childhood. The only outsiders in The Village are the Chennai doctor and the hired gun and his small outfit sent to Kattiyal on a mission that they aren't allowed to question.
The Village isn't easy to watch especially if one is squeamish. Bodies are ripped apart, torsos are impaled, limbs and heads are chopped off, bones are cracked and throats are slit. Much of the violence is graphically depicted and is preceded (or accompanied) by sibilant hisses and blood-curdling squeals.
When the blood-letting happens, which is pretty much all through the series, not much is left to the imagination. The bitter, bloody battle between the mercenaries and the mutants eventually boils down to machine-gun firepower versus the might of predatory creatures spearheaded by a Cyclopean hitman of Herculean strength.
Good, as always, is pitted against evil. The balance is tilted in favour of the latter for the most part. But not to worry, for all the collateral damage that is caused, the tragedies that occur and a protracted ordeal that is suffered, somebody is eventually enthused to declare, "God does exist." Just as well.
Arya is the undoubted star of the show. John Kokken, Thalaivasal Vijay, George Maryan and Aadukalam Naren also deliver performances that are more than just supporting acts.
Divya Pillai as the hero's wife and Pooja Ramachandran as a steely mercenary have limited scope in a series that is more intent on highlighting the 'graphic' potential of the material than on throwing into relief the personal demons that the key characters have to reckon with.
Watch The Village if you have the stomach for a no-holds-barred, squelchy, squirmy spectacle that frequently pushes the nausea factor to its extremities. Not a joy to behold but watchable enough.
Arya, Divya Pillai, Muthukumar, George Maryan
Milind Rau, V. Deeraj Vaidy and Deepthi Govindarajan