'Tumbbad' Review: A Striking Artistic Display Of The Catastrophic Temptations Of Fate [Fantastic Fest]

While oceans may divide us, horror brings the haunts of countless upbringings together with harmonious understanding. Cry genre staleness? You're not searching hard enough. Take India's Tumbbad, a gorgeously unleashed tale of greed, pulsating womb chambers, and disgraced demon gods. As Joko Anwar's Satan's Slaves does for Indonesian representation in a James Wan paranormal scenario, Tumbbad sears char-blackened folklore into a supernatural bake that sizzles and steams and hardens over with a crispy bite.

Directors Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi, and Adesh Prasad lead viewers through three significant periods in a foolish-but-prospering man's life, as cinematographer Pankaj Kumar prestigiously beautifies landscape-luscious visual photogenics in what might stand as the year's most striking artistic display of catastrophic temptations of fate.

Find out more in our Tumbbad review below.

Sohum Shah steps into the lead role of Vinayak once "Part II" begins, taking over for young Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jogalekar who introduces the golden-coin curse that corrupts Shah's adult being ("Part I"). As legend suggests, a sinister god named Hastar waged war against Mother Earth in an attempt to steal all her gold and food. Young Vinayak knows this much, but his chained-up grandmother – possessed and rotting – tells of Hastar's bountiful treasure if the boy can find Mother Earth's womb (where Hastar is locked away). Vinayak's mother scolds the child after almost being eaten by his released grandmother – enamored by the thought of countless riches – and mama demands Vinayak swear he'll never return to Tumbbad.

Cue "Part II," where Vinayak immediately returns to Tumbbad.

Backtracking to "Part I" (1918), where Vinayak and his brother's childhood takes a dreary and Brothers Grimm turn, one must acknowledge the tension in chamber-locked horrors. Two children ponder tales of Hastar; emboldened curiosity and fearlessness their greatest weapon. As Vinayak sneaks into his grandmother's locked room, freeing her, housebound horrors pull metal stakes out a woman's face as she drips gooey blood onto her grandson's head. Vinayak so desperately desires Hastar's treasure, so desperately that he'll risk being devoured to learn where the stash's proverbial "X" lays. Dramatically acted and full pitch-dark hallway creeps, "Part I" instigates a desire to escape poverty by any means. Financial gluttony with warning and dread.

"Part 2" speeds ahead and hits the ground with an Olympic sprint. Vinayak returns to the very house where gram-gram once tried to munch his flesh, and within minutes the line "Grandma, a tree grew out of you!" is exclaimed. Tumbbad fantastically leans into the macabre fairy tale that is Hastar's infectious deconstruction of those who are consumed by golden discs – Grandma, at this moment – and goes full bore into fabled believability. Vinayak is unshaken by his unholy, corpse-like grandmother's form. Her heart growing upwards, body mummified, vines sprouting out of her like Annihilation decor. Vinayak never flinches, and instead converses with the heap of verbalizing muck left behind. Within only a few more minutes Vinayak chats grandma, seeks a well opening, and finds Hastar's den via montage – but this isn't all there is to "Part 2."

At 108 minutes – fairly restrained for foreign cinema – Tumbbad drags its feet as Vinayak's playboy lifestyle asserts newfound frivolity. An odd coming-home hookup with an apparent girlfriend (?) kickstarts recurring degradation of female characters (cultural oppression), golden razor shaves suggest grand expenditures, transportation upgrades do the same – it's just comparatively dull when sandwiched between magnificent first and third acts. Vinayak's shimmery obsession needn't such exposition for how long it plods, albeit a less severe complaint than intentions seem. Vinayak and merchant dealer Raghav (Deepak Damle) live lavishly by means we've yet to witness (so far), and that's when Raghav lowers into Mother Earth's womb. Where all hell breaks loose and Hastar – in a matter of words – s***s gold coins when fed a clay/doughy doll.

Tumbbad Review

"Part III" brings us to 1947, where Vinayak now raises a son of not even 16 years. Vinayak trains his successor to be the treasure-snatching master thief who can live forever on Hastar's wealthy expulsions. The child's mother, and Vinayak's wife, is treated with the utmost disrespect as her dominant family men come face-to-face with evil – a blood-red cross between Insidious' claw demon and The Mummy's Imhotep with The Descent influences. Vinayak is failed by his ability to listen to those females most important in his life, as much as he's failed by desires to break the highest boundaries of status even if it'll kill him *and* his child. "Part III" is a necessary culmination of irresponsibility, loin-cloth ripping, and ascension into a sticky Hell where only a single chalk ring prevents Hastar from gnawing your body to pieces.

Pankaj Kumar's camerawork is rich, vibrant, and tethered to exotic on-site locations that are exposed by a most elegant framework. Art direction and fluid lensing collide to paint masterful brushstrokes of Mother Earth's slimy, DEEP red womb walls, or massive temple doors that hold the secrets of giants, or scenic glimpses of architecture silhouettes against a soothing blue night's sky. Vinayak crawls through thicket brushes spun closed by spider webs, a skeevy tunnel that leads to Grandmother's soil-crumbled "Bodies: The Exhibition" freakshow remix. Tumbbad is a stunning artistic achievement that closes on a slow-motion escape aesthetically torn from Thor: Ragnarok (spellbinding, truly), stated as the highest compliment. An accomplishment in horror filmmaking that lights any discredit of genre quality arguments ablaze.

Tumbbad bridges gaps between different worlds – India and any viewer's homeland – through a common language: storytelling. Costumes and cityscapes may be unfamiliar, but Hastar's terrifying chase sequences require no translation when it comes to horror appreciation. Mad creature-feature designs, Academy-worthy blends of color and pristine optical packaging, despicable character work meant to provoke heartlessness traded for materialistic grandiosity – Tumbbad is a full genre package seasoned with a pungent foreign kick. A welcoming breed of horror that transcends barrier, creeds, and beliefs./Film Rating: 8 out of 10