Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Go Goa Gone - review

2013 (India)

Contains mild spoilers.

Rolls sleeves up. Right let's do this. It's Pre'Ween folks and yours truly has joined forces with eight other bastions of horror to produce some content to celebrate the year's run up to the main apple bobbing dark harvest itself. Brandon at the Dog Farm is generously collating it all (tis all his idea and hard work really) and you can check it out there. My aim is simple. To up my game, watch more films than ever this next 30 days and hopefully feel like I'm making some kind of contribution, however pitiful that might be. I was going to set myself the target of a film a day but let's be realistic; this is me so we'll see what happens. I'm also going to use it as a chance to catch up on the many non-zombie horror titles I've missed which I may or may not comment on. And yes, I have warned the wife.

So let's start the carnival with something that on the surface would appear to be a little different. Touted as Bollywood's first official zombie comedy, which I'm in no position to question, Go Goa Gone, directed and written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. is a witty, sharp character driven rom-com with oodles of charm and an endearing innocence. Entwined Hindi and English with subtitles the script plays with modern young Indian counter culture; with drug use, alcohol and an extreme apathy and directionless with a call-centred ennui and a country mired with extreme poverty and a colonial hang-over.

Hardik (Kunal Khemu) and Luv (Vir Das) are two stoner best friends trapped in the rut who persuade their flatmate and friend Bunny (Anand Tiwari) to let them tag along on his business trip to Goa. There they team up with Facebook friend of Luv's Luna (Puja Gupta), gate-crash a remote island rave hosted by the Russian Mafia and watch opened mouthed as a zombie outbreak spins out of control around them only to become unlikely, but very affable heroes on the way.

I know what you're thinking. I thought it. It's Shaun of the Dead or any one of the many films that followed with the same reluctant hero and rom-com-zom template. Establish likeable losers, drop them in an inescapable zombie maelstrom with a girl to rescue and no hope, and slowly watch them turn overcome themselves and turn into heroes. Go Goa Gone does it all; unabashed, even over explaining zombie rules as if we need to hear all about head shots in 2014. And yet it gets away with it.

Zombies, especially the Western Romero trope, are not an Indian horror staple and this allows Go Goa Gone to explain the zombie a to z in a playful way that never offends or feels unnecessarily contrived. Hearing Hardik, Luv and Bunny come to the conclusion that they're probably not vampires or ghosts but most likely zombies and the product of western globalisation is a triumph that imbues the film with a playful meta-innocence from start to finish. We're not expected to believe in a vision of an alternative yet familiar looking reality where zombies have never been imagined, nor are expected to believe a young twenty something wouldn't know to go for the head; their zombie journey is fluid and natural. 

It's not parasites, or evil magic or space monkeys. The cause of all the commotion is a new experimental little red pill, touted as the ultimate high, Russian mafia boss, Boris (Saif Ali Khan) has brought back from Siberia to try out on his guests. Whilst the idea to shut off all but a small part of the brain so the user feels no pain, no pleasure and no emotion and only a hunger to be high might have seemed like a good one in the lab, in the real world it's actually an extremely bad, what with the high transpiring to be other peoples flesh, and the side-effect of actually killing the taker. Nidimoru and D.K. firmly go with the Romero / The Walking Dead vision of zombies, and this fits with the meta-charm. They're slow, shuffling, stupid and only really good in a group. It's head shots (that bit of the brain left ticking over) and their only drive is their insatiable hunger. Clearly a lot of work has gone in to their look and feel, and there are some great expansive zombie scenes with as many as a hundred or so on screen at once. They act cohesively and though Go Goa Gone is never going to give anyone a nightmare there's more than a handful of well-crafted bloody gut munches and wrenches to entertain.

So yes, look deeply and the finger could point to a story that's actually pretty generic, characters we've seen a dozen times before, and it has perhaps played it all too safe, but that's missing so much. Go Goa Gone has taken the western trope and has added Bollywood life, vibrancy and colour with some exceptional character acting and a production team that know how to make a sumptuous film. The chemistry between the main characters, especially Luv and Hardik is magical, and they're an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. Go Goa Gone is genuinely funny, heart-warming and intelligent, with no dead scenes, perfect pitch and pace, and a delightful score. There's also the hint of a sequel which I'll definitely be first in line for, 7/10.


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