Ludo, which was co-directed by Indian filmmakers Qaushiq Mukherjee (aka “Q”) and Nikon, had it’s U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX this weekend as one of its midnight screenings, and it pains me to say that it is one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had watching a film.Kissing on film is still considered obscene in India, so it frames an interesting story that focuses on four “young and horny” teenagers who meet up for a night on the town. Their only goal is to have sex, and after several failed attempts to get a hotel room (they are shut out from multiple hotels because they can’t provide proof that they are married), they end up breaking into a shopping mall to spend the night. All is going well until they are interrupted by an elderly couple who seems to hypnotize the teenagers into playing a game of Ludo (the Indian version of Parcheesi). Of course, this particular game has an insidious agenda, and it isn’t long before the blood starts spilling.
What Ludo does very well is its carnage. There are some fantastic practical effects in play here, and that is made all the more impressive when you know that Ludo is the first horror effort from Q. There are tongues being ripped out, intestines being tugged out of torsos and eyes being plucked out. It’s a rather nasty film that should satisfy gore-hounds all over.
The concept behind Ludo is also clever, mainly because of the cultural differences. Set in a society where sexuality is essentially illegal, it provides an interesting change from the usual sex-obsessed teens in American horror films. Yes, the lead characters are still sex-obsessed, but there is more motivation behind it than what you find in American films.
Once the game comes into play, things start to go downhill. This is very depressing to me because the board game was what I was looking forward to the most (I’m a big Jumanji fan). Maybe it’s because I don’t understand the rules of the game since I’ve never played Parcheesi, but the entire film becomes nonsensical once the teens start playing with the elderly couple.
What really doesn’t work in the film’s favor is that after a few of the teens have died, the elderly woman starts telling the two remaining teens the story behind the game. This begins at the halfway point of the film and lasts for the ENTIRE. SECOND. HALF. It’s sort of like an evil(er) Jumanji, but the tale is told in fragmented flashbacks that make the story very unclear. It seems to turn into a vampire movie, but the idea is never developed fully.
It doesn’t help that we’ve spent half of the movie following these teens, only for them to be left behind while we get a new story involving the elderly couple’s history with Ludo. Once it was over, it felt like I had just watched two completely different films, and they didn’t pair well together.
While Ludo has an intriguing concept and some great practical effects, it can’t overcome a weak, disjointed script that ends up being an incredibly frustrating viewing experience. There is a lot of potential here, and I will definitely watch the next horror film Q and Nikon put out, but Ludo will hopefully be a distant memory by then.