The predicament with producing anti-establishment art is that you are always going to polarise public opinion and the polarisation will produce views that will depend on political alignments and more importantly, on where people consume their news. In that respect Ghoul is quite brave for attempting a subject matter which a majority of mainstream cinema and TV have shied away from. In fact what we have often seen is the opposite; over-the-top mawkish patriotic films with binary characters and preachy messages.
It is also in this context that Ghoul is less of a horror series and more of a social commentary on the present times. Whether the commentary is justified or overhyped depends, again, on the viewer’s prejudices. It is quite direct with the message it wants to portray; a near-future, dystopian, Orwellian India where any form of questioning the Government is classified as “anti-national”, where Muslims are ‘otherised’ and hounded by the State, their holy books burnt in 1933 Nazi style and where people suspected as terrorists are tortured in illegal detention centres by the Army.
The crux of the plot takes place in a detention centre when the arrival of a new dreaded prisoner throws everything into chaos as doubts emerge over whether he is even human at all.
The dark, bleak and claustrophobic imagery of the prison helps immensely in setting up the horror scenes. The pacing is not hurried even though the series is a short one but the writers also do not waste too much time in back-story. The decision to make Ghoul only three episodes long was a very clever idea because there isn’t much else they could have done with the story. It was better than dragging on without purpose. All horror movies should be watched alone if you really want to enjoy them and this one is no exception.
Judging by the standards of past efforts by Indians in the horror/ thriller genre, Ghoul is a stand-out. On a barometer of scariness, Ghoul is not spine-chilling or blood-curdling but it does just enough. The social commentary is not layered or subtle but it works within its scope. The monsters do not just exist in the paranormal realm but are sometimes only ordinary humans. I don’t know if they are going to make a second season but I hope they don’t because they ended it perfectly and adding anything extra will be overkill. Besides they have already made the point that they wanted to make. I would suggest watching Ghoul with the earphones in full volume so as to really take in the tense soundtrack.