Betaal review – India dip a necrotic hand into the zombie genre

May 24, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
Netflix, TV Reviews
2

Summary

India’s foray into the ever-popular zombie subgenre is fraught with shoddy production, thin characters, and an over-reliance on cheap tropes.

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2

Summary

India’s foray into the ever-popular zombie subgenre is fraught with shoddy production, thin characters, and an over-reliance on cheap tropes.

This review of Betaal (Netflix) is spoiler-free.


With the success of Kingdom, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see Netflix graced by international attempts at breathing new life into the necrotic zombie-horror sub-genre. But that the relatively high-profile Indian original series Betaal was released into the wastelands of a Sunday should be telling; created by Patrick Graham (Ghoul) and starring Viineet Kumar (Bard of Blood), this four-parter is blighted by shoddy makeup and effects, played-out cheap-thrill genre action, and a cripplingly self-serious tone that does its largely silly setup no favors at all.

The setup: An under-pressure contractor wants to excavate a tunnel dating back to the British raj in order to make room for a highway; the superstitious locals would rather he didn’t since the tunnel is supposedly cursed and shouldn’t be messed around with. So far, so familiar, but there’s an intriguing wrinkle in the contractor tricking a military squad into clearing the villagers out on the pretext that they’re insurgents. A subtle parable on oppression and colonial legacy Betaal most certainly is not.

Still, there’s no reason this couldn’t work under the right circumstances. These, however, are not the right circumstances, and the show’s efforts to have its undead stand apart by being a bit savvier and more mobile than the usual brainless hordes fall flat in the face of a tedious overuse of tired clichés and tricks. Prepare for plenty of jump-scares, some loopy plot turns, some ostensibly serious developments that nonetheless border on comedy, and a childish enthusiasm for gore; the show’s obvious themes, meanwhile, remain unexamined.

Taking place over the course of just one night, and four sub-hour episodes, one could argue that there’s little room for character development or unpacking of colonialism, which is perhaps fair enough – but there’s very little to Betaal without these things. Viineet Kumar reliably rebels against his underwritten lead, but a wavering focus and tone and an off-putting po-faced sincerity all fight him at every turn. A far cry from a revival for zombie media, this is mostly rotten.


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