Movies · Reviews

Ludo Plays a Game With No Winner

By  · Published on September 28th, 2015



Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Ria and her best friend Payel are ready for a night out in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), and while Ria’s mom and society at large don’t necessarily agree with their scandalous (but not really) outfits the two know that the world is changing to favor the youth. They meet up with Pele and Babai, two guys looking to score, and immediately proceed to get drunk before looking for a hotel room to share. Morally superior desk clerks and a lack of IDs become insurmountable obstacles for the horny foursome so they head to the mall and hide out until it closes thinking they’ll have the run of the place all night long.

And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for the pair of weirdos hiding out in the mall with them. The homeless couple immediately begin acting oddly, and once the woman pulls out a homemade board game called Sari! (it’s not really called Sari! but I’m sticking with it) the four friends discover their fun night might actually be their last night.

Ludo is an Indian horror film from co-directors Q (Gandu) and Nikon, but while there are culturally distinct threads throughout the core story follows some very generic and incredibly lazy genre beats. If that was the entirety of the film it would be nothing more than a dull retread of things we’ve already seen, but it shifts gears shortly after the midpoint towards a story that’s both more promising and more disappointing.

The first half formula spends thirty minutes introducing characters and their dilemma before they land in a dangerous situation – well, aside from an early glimpse at something dark, bloody and inexplicably never revisited – but this half hour ultimately feels wasted. The time isn’t used building character depth or engaging viewers with their plight, and instead we’re just along for the ride with four uninteresting and unlikable young adults. This too is a genre norm, but usually we’re not stuck with them for so long before bad things start happening to them.

The shift introduces new characters as part of a back story, and while it too fails through a combination of convoluted narrative and incomplete characterizations it offers the tease of something far more promising. “Becoming a monster is never easy,” someone says, and we’re introduced to a couple who play a game of Sari! only to be turned into monsters. This is a far more engaging idea than the tale that led us here, but like most everything else here it’s ultimately wasted with horror tropes and a lack of details.

The game – the centerpiece of the terror unfolding here – is shown repeatedly as characters roll dice and move their pieces, but while the film wants to play these beats as suspenseful we have no context with which to feel that suspense. The game is never explained beyond the fact that it’s evil and fuses “root magic and illusion” for whatever that’s worth, and it never becomes more than a prop. The monsters are equally vague – vampires, demons, who knows what – and that hurts the film’s efforts to make them more human.

Ludo has things to say about India’s still-repressed culture, and its attempts at tying sex into the horror are noticeable even if they’re not all that understandable. One monster devours someone’s innards only to be seen in the next scene smoking a post-cannibalistic cigarette. It’s not very subtle, but it’s also not very conclusive. To paraphrase another film with games at its center, the only winning move here is not to watch.

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.