Aiyai: Wrathful Soul begins, appropriately enough, in a cemetery. Kiran (Kabir Singh, One Less God) has just been hired on to do general maintenance. The owner Albert (Richard Huggett, Infini, Gabriel) seems a nice enough guy, as does his boss Darren (William Wensley, Like a Bat Outta Hell, Chiroptera). Except when he’s been drinking that is. The groundskeeper Michael (Craig Ingham, The Slaughterhouse Killer, Australiens) however, is a big, imposing guy with a nasty disposition.
Things take a turn for the worse however when Kiran is walking home and sees Tom (Ozzie Devrish, The Dark Lurking, Mega Shark vs. Kolossus) and one of his goons beating Amy (Pennyanne Lace, Crisis Point), one of his dealers. He intervenes and takes nasty beating. The next day when he goes to work the offices have been trashed and ash from the crematorium is everywhere.
Director Ilanthirayan Arumugam and his co-writers Charles Benedict and Mukund Ramanan approach the first act of Aihai: Wrathful Soul in a somewhat non-linear manner. The film starts with scenes from its midpoint then circles back to the beginning. Similarly the fight with Tom sets off flashbacks to before the start of the film that explain where the scars on Kiran’s face came from, and how he lost his last job.
Filling us in at the film’s own pace like that creates what little mystery and suspense there is in the film’s first third. Because it’s not until after Kiran takes a kick to the head from Tom that things start to happen. First annoying poltergeist type activities, then a rather impressive death by fire. Which Kiran falls under suspicion for.
Once Aiyai: Wrathful Soul shifts gears and becomes a supernatural story we get quite a bit of fairly well-done effects. IMDB lists the film’s budget as $3,700,000 Australian, or about $2,750,000 in US dollars. Much of that must have gone into the mix of practical and occasional fairly good CGI we see. Those effects are complemented by Singh’s ability to twist and move his body in some very uncomfortable-looking ways.
We also get a couple of new characters at this point as well, Kiran’s girlfriend Sarah (Tahlia Jade Holt, Aquaman) and his brother Felix (Vinod Mohana Sundaram). They have the rather thankless job of trying to keep Kiran safe while they figure out what is going on.
With the script, we clearly avoided horror film clichés, and intertwined real life events with unique elements, navigated by distinguished characters. A primary focus of Aiyai: A Wrathful Soul, a psychological thriller with supernatural undertonesIlanthirayan Arumugam Director of Aiyai: Wrathful Soul
What is going on has something to do with possession and a rather nasty bit of business at the funeral home. Something that once again is revealed by way of a flashback, one which also finally explains why Tom and Willie (Marco Sinigaglia) are so important to the film.
It’s an enjoyable and very well staged, if fairly familiar story. Despite the filmmakers saying they wanted to avoid the genre’s clichés, it makes use of several, including a bowl of noodles that starts squirming around and a storm rolling in just in time for the film’s climax. My other complaint with Aiyai: Wrathful Soul is that it really doesn’t do much with it’s titular demon. We’re never told anything about it and this could have been a straightforward ghostly possession for all the use it gets. The Aiyai itself does, however, look creepy when we see it.
Aiyai: Wrathful Soul is an impressive debut for Arumugam who does a good job with a film that is a lot more complex than most first features. And apart from a couple of night scenes that could have used a bit more light, it looks and sounds quite good.
Already released in its native Australia as well as several other countries, Aiyai: Wrathful Soul is currently playing festivals in the US. You can check the film’s website and Facebook page for details and screenings.