Laws of the Universe: justice working out in mysterious ways

Chris Mangano, “Laws of the Universe” (2019)

As is usually the case with sci-fi film shorts uploaded to Youtube by DUST, this film makes up for in depth and quality what it lacks in the way of a budget. Houston (Sidney Brown Jr) has spent 16 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, after being wrongly convicted of killing someone. While in prison he actually did murder someone out of self-defence which explains why he is in solitary confinement. He is waiting to be released from jail after using the time to educate himself in law and learning yoga and meditation. Unfortunately the prison wardens seem to have disappeared so he contacts his mother on his cellphone and she tells him to turn on his TV set. He does so and sure enough, a strange UFO is hovering above Los Angeles, attracting so much attention that even the wardens and administrators at the high-security prison have deserted their posts to view the wonder.

Over the next several days, while Houston and his fellow prisoners languish for want of attention and food and drink, Mom informs her son by phone that people are looting the abandoned UFO for alien technology. In the meantime, the water supply and then electricity are cut off to the prison and Houston endures several days of near starvation and thirst. He becomes concerned for his family’s welfare and worries about his mother. On Day 12 of his continued incarceration when he should have been freed eleven days earlier, Houston receives an unusual visitor in his cell: a man (Jason Karasev) using some of that unusual alien tech materialises in his cell looking for a friend to free …

The plot is entirely driven by dialogue and Brown’s acting, much of it silent. Beneath the youthful tough-talking exterior, Houston is revealed as someone of considerable intelligence and adaptability. While he and his previous lawyers were unable to overturn his initial wrongful conviction, Houston has used his time in jail to turn over a new leaf and improve himself. At the same time his prison experiences have toughened him in a different way from life in the streets, perhaps as a member of a teenage gang, and he does not hesitate to sweep aside conventional notions of morality if it means saving his life or saving the lives of others. Hence, when the stranger keeps reappearing in his cell, clearly unsure of himself (this suggests that he knows that he is doing wrong in trying to free his convicted pal), Houston takes advantage of the stranger’s uncertainty to free himself. He lands in a world at once familiar to him – he sees his family’s home – and yet unfamiliar: the streets are free of crime, traffic and pollution. Clearly the alien technology that has been pilfered from the abandoned UFO above the city has some capacity to see into people’s minds and probe their intentions, and has fulfilled those subconscious desires and instincts in ways unforeseen by the new human owners of the technology.

While the laws of physics might have been broken in this film, the law of morality turns out to be straightforward in spite of its apparent extreme elasticity and malleability. As religious people say, God works His justice in mysterious ways.

The American Military Retreat from Vietnam: a general history of the prolonged end of the Vietnam War

Carlton Meyer, “The American Military Retreat from Vietnam” (Tales of the American Empire, 19 June 2020)

This video serves mainly as a retelling of the significant events in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1975: the 1968 date is chosen, not so much because most people in the West believe that was when the war began in earnest for the United States and its allies (including Australia), but because this date was actually the start of the prolonged end of the war. By this time, the US government knew it could not win the war unless the American public was willing to countenance the sacrifice of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Army conscripts in a war it had no appetite for. In 1968, the then US President Lyndon B Johnson, his reputation ruined by prosecuting the war, decided not to contest for the presidency which was later won by Richard Nixon. On becoming President, Nixon decided to turn the prosecution of the war to South Vietnam and to arm that country with military materiel and money – but thanks to endemic corruption in the South Vietnamese government and military, the equipment often ended up with the Viet Cong and money in politicians and military generals’ Swiss bank accounts. After throwing money and providing arms to a nation whose soldiers and people were unwilling to fight for corrupt leaders, and preferred instead a united Vietnam, the US government finally withdrew all its forces and assistance from South Vietnam by April 1975, and not long afterwards South Vietnam collapsed. The nation’s elites escaped overseas with American taxpayer money and Vietnam was united under the Communists in Hanoi.

The video presents the war as part of the US strategy to hang onto South Vietnam as a vassal state, in much the same or similar way as it currently hangs onto South Korea as a vassal state. What this video and a later video “The Mythical Threat from North Korea” in this series (Tales of the American Empire) do not actually say is why these countries serve as virtual colonies and what purpose they serve as colonies. Their geopolitical value to the US as battlegrounds between the US and the real enemies – the nations dominating the Eurasian heartland Russia and China – is not mentioned.

Interesting war film footage is shown and photographs and stills of the significant US politicians and military leaders of the war are interspersed with these to match Carlton Meyer’s voice-over narration. The video serves as a good general introduction to the history of the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1975 with a clear theme of the US pursuing an unwinnable war, unnecessarily throwing thousands of soldiers, equipment, ammunition and money, aiming at prolonging the war for imperialistic reasons. The long-term effect of the war on US politics, the economy and society generally – it might be said that the Vietnam War marks the beginning of the decline of the US as a superpower – is not covered in this brief video.

The Mythical North Korean Threat: how the US exploits North-South Korean tensions for its own benefit

Carlton Meyer, “The Mythical North Korean Threat” (Tales of the American Empire, 26 June 2020)

Amazingly in this admittedly short (eight-minute) video there’s no mention of North Korea’s nuclear defence program among the DPRK’s other defence strategies and military capabilities which for the most part are very poor. The video pivots on the US need to keep North and South Korea divided so as to maintain its iron grip on South Korea as a vassal state. To that end, the US built its largest offshore military base, Camp Humphreys, at a location some 40 miles south of Seoul to house up to 30,000 soldiers and their families. The base includes primary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school, and a number of fast food franchises are located there as well, to judge from photographs and film featured in the video.

The video pulls apart the propaganda, constantly repeated in Western mainstream news media, that North Korea poses a major danger to both South Korea and the US, and that current DPRK leader Kim Jong-un is a crazed despot. Far from it, the video tells us that Kim was educated at a private school in Switzerland, speaks English well, loves US basketball and has a physics degree. Kim also knows what his country’s armed forces are capable of, and not capable of. The DPRK’s army is made up of agricultural labourers who spend more time working in the fields than maintaining their weapons and equipment; consequently what weapons and military materiel the North Koreans have are in poor condition. Meyer might have added the reason for this state of affairs: due to economic sanctions imposed on North Korea since the 1950s, not to mention the devastation the Korean War brought to the country (some 20% of the population died during the war and every major city was ruined), North Korea has no agricultural machinery or the tools to make such machinery, and farming is highly labour-intensive.

South Korea turns out to be a far more powerful nation than North Korea, militarily and economically, and North Korea well knows the punishment the ROK could dish out if it dared to invade its neighbour. Indeed, many South Koreans realise that the Americans are not needed and demonstrations against the US presence in South Korea are common. The question is why the US continues to stay in South Korea. The video makes clear that in both the US and South Korea, political and military elites profit from the spending (running into the billions of US dollars) that US military occupation enables in South Korea. What perhaps is not clear in the video (its major failing) is the geopolitical value of South Korea as a threat to China and Russia in its far eastern region.

The real eye-opener in this video is the existence of Camp Humphreys and the huge size of the base: a family could easily live there for an entire lifetime and never set foot outside the base. Its shops and facilities however have a generic and soulless look about them: one would never know that it is located in South Korea as everything about the place – its buildings, their design, the shops there, the people who live and work there – does not acknowledge the culture of the host nation. The impression I have is that the camp exists mainly to provide employment for Americans – indeed, actual military personnel make up a minority of all Americans employed at Camp Humphreys – and for US companies to profit from by providing services and goods that resident military families need.

While this video is very informative, I did have a feeling that some information about North Korea might need updating. In recent years, North Korea has experienced some prosperity, along with some relaxation of restrictions on North Korean citizens and private enterprise being allowed. The video relied mainly on old film and not very recent photographs to portray Kim, the North Korean military and life generally in the DPRK. Perhaps at a future time the video might be updated to include more current information about this reclusive nation.

The Atlas of False Desires: cynically saying that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

Nathan Su, “The Atlas of False Desires” (2016)

By turns inspiring yet depressing, this 8-minute film puts forward a proposition that to save Planet Earth from destruction caused in part by mass consumerism encouraged by social media in the form of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram promoting (or not) so-called social media influencers – often young women paid (or not) to flaunt particular fashion trends of life-styles – activists must resort to using the same tactics of manipulation, astro-turfing, even trolling and fake news generation to appeal to emotion and subconscious desire and to shape opinion and behaviour. The film revolves around an Indian click farm called Desire Atlas that runs a devious IT operation to seed fake content and create a fake grassroots following about a new global fashion trend – undyed garments – through a collaborating vlogger (Bethany Edgoose, who also co-wrote the script with director Nathan Su) in order to save rivers in India from toxic chemical pollution caused by the use of industrial coloured dyes in fabric and to encourage Indian weavers in using and maintaining their traditional knowledge and skills to weave plain-coloured fabrics. The vlogger uses her Manic Monday vlog to promote the hashtag #undyed, a teenage influencer sees the pictures of models wearing clothing made of undyed fabric, believes they are for real and passes the message of a new fashion trend to her friends. Before long, major corporate clothing and fabric labels are up in arms about an apparent new global trend of fashion in undyed fabrics that has suddenly boomed out of nowhere; cyber-marketers and corporate IT employees are nonplussed as to how a trend they had no warning of could suddenly have so many followers in the millions around the world. The global clothing-dye industry collapses and rivers in India no longer carry dangerous toxins.

The message may be too simplistic but it does highlight the interconnected nature of the global fashion industry, how companies use and harvest social media platforms for trends that they can manipulate for profit, and how gullible people, influencers and influenced alike, with little knowledge of the outside world beyond their own immediate experience, can be exploited emotionally by marketing campaigns going for their jugulars. Fashion trends then spread through cyber-space like viruses – emphasises in the film with beautiful computer-generated imagery of clouds of coloured pixels exploding through space above city or country scenes – and create huge shifts in production and distribution in faraway lands, with enormous consequences in the way raw materials may or may not be chosen, where they are transported to and transformed through stages into the end product, and the impact that manufacturing generated by fashion trends can have on employment, people’s lives and cultures, and the natural environment.

In a mix of documentary and fictional drama, “The Atlas of False Desires” proposes that the same tactics that corporations use to entice people to make choices by appealing to their irrational instincts and desires can also be used to influence people to do good. The problem with this idea is that it does not challenge the underlying systems, values and ideologies on which global fashion and clothing manufacture are based. People are still being treated as passive consumers who can be pushed around and mentally brainwashed with ease. Consumerism as a way of life – and a destructive one at that – remains unquestioned. Major environmental issues are not always amenable to simplistic solutions: the health of rivers in India may depend on many factors as well as on whatever industry spews into them. And what will happen when consumers around the world tire of wearing plain clothing with no dyes? Is another trend, perhaps based on the use of natural dyes, ready to sell with the same tactics of manipulation? Suppose the target audience realises it is being manipulated – what do the well-meaning activists at Desire Atlas do then?

Football Star Murdered in Afghanistan: how the US government exploited the life and death of Pat Tillman

Carlton Meyer, “Football Star Murdered in Afghanistan” (Tales of the American Empire, 9 April 2020)

With the passage of time, former NRL football player turned soldier Pat Tillman (1976 – 2004) may well turn out to be an all-American hero – just not in the way assumed by most Americans brought up on US news media and Hollywood propaganda. After completing college on a football scholarship, Tillman began an illustrious sports career as linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals in the late 1990s. Eight months after the plane attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York in September 2001, Tillman turned down a US$3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals and enlisted in the US Army with his brother Kevin. After completing training, Tillman participated in the US invasion in Iraq in 2003 and then returned to the US to complete other military training. In October, he was sent to Afghanistan. On 22 April 2004, Tillman was killed, supposedly by Afghan enemy combatants.

Meyer’s short 9-minute video shows that, rather than being killed by enemy Afghans in the heat of battle, Tillman was killed in cold blood by someone on his own side in a scenario that suspiciously looks like a trap aimed at getting rid of him. During his deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tillman became disillusioned with the US conduct of the war in those two nations. He voiced his disapproval to other soldiers. The video mentions that he exchanged correspondence with leading US dissident of the time, Noam Chomsky, and planned to meet with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor after returning to the US. It seems very likely that the Pentagon realised how embarrassing Tillman’s meeting with Chomsky and opinions might be to it, and how his actions and opinions might affect the US public’s attitude to the military. That might affect the all-important military recruitment drive among high school students and other young people to get more cannon fodder to throw at harmless people of colour in dirt-poor countries holding resources dear to wealthy elites in the US and other parts of the Western world. Therefore Tillman had to go.

The video does a good job of delineating Tillman’s career in the last few years of his life. Viewers wanting more information will need to make their investigations but the video provides enough detail to be a foundation for those enquiries. Special mention must be made of Tillman’s family members, particularly his mother, who became suspicious when Tillman’s personal belongings including his private diary were burned by the Army rather than returned to his immediate relatives. The family later discovered that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire. The video also mentions that Army doctors disagreed with the official narrative on the cause of Tillman’s death and pointed out that Tillman was shot three times in forehead at near point-blank range.

A major source of information relied on by the video is a “60 Minutes” (US version) interview with Pat Tillman’s mother Mary about her son and the despicable and cowardly way in which the US Army and the US government handled the news and information about the circumstances of Tillman’s death. As with other videos in the Tales of the American Empire series, this major source comes near the end of the video.

It seems that justice for Pat Tillman, bringing his killers and those who plotted his death into a court of law to be charged with premeditated murder, is still some way off. His brave family continues to meet with obfuscations from the authorities. The video ends quite awkwardly and abruptly. Tillman’s horrific death serves to show that even in the case of one very high-profile and popular individual, the US government and the powers behind it are prepared to exploit that person’s popularity and reputation for their own ends and to throw the individual under the proverbial bus when it suits them – let alone other lesser-known people and even entire nations. This is the way of the political culture of the US and its allies.

The Conquest of the Republic of Georgia in 2003: how Georgia gave up independence and became a US vassal state

Carlton Meyer, “The Conquest of the Republic of Georgia in 2003” (Tales of the American Empire, May 2020)

One of a series of films by former US Marine Corps member Carlton Meyer on US political and military interference and intervention in various nations around the world over the past 100 years or so, this short piece is a timely survey of the history of the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Georgia had been part of the Soviet Union since the early 1920s at least – Soviet leader Josef Stalin had been part-Georgian, part-Ossetian, a fact that will become important later – and even before then, had been part of the Russian empire from 1801 to 1917. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Georgia became an independent republic and at this point the United States became interested in drawing the country away from the Russian orbit into its sphere of influence, mainly through the use of soft power in the form of non-government organisations (NGOs) masquerading as charities and humanitarian groups. The US State Department groomed one Mikheil Saakashvili as a future leader, enrolling him at Columbia Law School and then at The George Washington University, later sending him back to Georgia with a huge pot of money. Saakashvili later entered parliament in the late 1990s. After serving as Justice Minister under President Eduard Shevardnadze, Saakashvili quit the government and Shevardnadze’s party, formed his own party and campaigned in the country’s parliamentary elections in November 2003. Saakashvili claimed his party had won the elections and led mass protests and demonstrations that culminated in the resignation of Shevardnadze as President. The coup came to be known as the Rose Revolution, and is the US conquest of Georgia as described in the title of the video.

Through maps and archival news reels, a hilarious FOX television news interview with two Ossetian-American citizens, and with voice-over narration by Meyer himself, the video covers not only Saakashvili’s rise to power (in the process exposing him as a US-groomed stooge) but also US military infiltration of Georgia’s armed forces and police, paving the way for Saakashvili’s invasion of South Ossetia in August 2008. Russian forces assisted South Ossetian forces in throwing back the invading Georgians in a 5-day war but not before about 350 people were killed and over 1,500 injured. Civilians in the contested territory clearly knew who was to blame, as demonstrated in the FOX television news interview with a teenage girl and her aunt, in which both blamed President Saakashvili for starting the war and praised Russia’s role in ending it, causing their host to hastily end the interview and cut to an ad break. The war and a number of political scandals, including the mysterious death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005 and a prison scandal in which prisoners were beaten and sodomised in 2012, dented Saakashvili’s reputation and the President left Georgia in 2013. Criminal charges were filed against him by the Georgian Prosecutor in 2014.

Despite Saakashvili having left Georgia (to resurface in Ukraine in 2014, taking up, then losing, then regaining Ukrainian citizenship in the years following), the video states the country is still very much under the thumb of its US masters. Georgia continues to supply cannon fodder to assist the US in invading foreign countries and subjugating local populations in countries as far apart as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. The US and Israel continue to supply training to Georgia’s military and security forces. A biological warfare research facility operates in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, often to the detriment of the health of communities in the facility’s immediate vicinity. The US continues to dangle the prospect of NATO membership in front of Georgians even though the country does not fulfill the requirements of NATO membership or those for EU membership. Significant border issues exist between Georgia and its neighbours including Russia.

Far from gaining true independence and security in its neighbourhood, Georgia has given away both to pursue dreams and promises that the US and the EU have no intention of fulfilling.

Attack on Nyege Nyege Island: mini action thriller short featuring killer King Kong kung-fu kicks

Isaac G G Nabwana, “Attack on Nyege Nyege Island” (2016)

The tiny but already globally famous Ugandan film industry (known as Ugawood, taking after the manner of Bollywood and Nollywood which represent the popular film industries of India and Nigeria respectively) already boasts its very own Quentin Tarantino cult figure in the person of one Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana, also known as Nabwana IGG, who since 2009 has been making comedy action thriller flicks on literal shoe-string budgets as low as US$200 (!!!) with cheap special effects which he knocks up on his computer, which he built himself out of scrap material in his impoverished neighbourhood Wakaliga, a suburb in Kampala, and featuring voice-over narration from so-called “voice jokers” who dub or translate the dialogue into English for audiences and who often add their own interpretations and jokes into the narration for hilarious effect. Beginning with his most famous film “Who killed Captain Alex?”, Nabwana’s films take place in a particular universe, of course familiar to us and yet an odd place where it seems blaxploitation and martial arts flicks common in the 1970s never went out of fashion, drug lords commanding mafia gangs and big bosses running worldwide trafficking rackets not only still exist but still wear the most god-awful flamboyant fashions, and fighters are as likely to send one another to overflowing morgues with well-aimed kung fu kicks as with AK-47s that they just can’t seem to control.

In case this all sounds too much for readers, Nabwana kindly provides a taster of his distinctive world with a 12-minute short “Attack on Nyege Nyege Island”, a film he improvised and made in two days during the Nyege Nyege Festival. The musicians and the audience at the festival, and the community who hosted it, make up the film’s entire cast. All you need to know is that the festival is gatecrashed by commandos from the fearsome Tiger Mafia gang – whose big boss wears an odd mask of three CD-ROM discs over his forehead and eyes – who proceed to shoot up everyone in sight in their quest to kidnap somebody called Anna whom their boss seems inordinately fond of. In desperation two girls in the Nyege Nyege community summon the spirit guardian, a human-sized King Kong figure who proceeds to knock out and knock off the Tiger Mafia gangsters with Killer Kung Fu fighting.

The acting is probably better than might be expected in a cheerfully cheap film such as this, and the special effects are actually on par with the famously legendary cheap special effects of the old original Doctor Who television series that ran from 1963 to 1989. Needless to say, the plot is almost non-existent and just when it almost runs out of juice, the film ends on a cliff-hanger that can only be resolved at the next Nyege Nyege Festival. The voice joker is as much an essential part of the action as he introduces characters and does not so much explain or narrate as push the story along with exhortations and hurrahs.

The remarkable thing is that this and other films by Nabwanza’s film production company Ramon Productions (named after his grandmothers) exist at all, with their breezy self-deprecating humour and fearless gung-ho DIY spirit, in the slums of Kampala.

Control: a character study on isolation, mental breakdown and psychological assault

Carroll Brown, “Control” (2019)

Filmed on a tiny budget, this science fiction horror short is an intense character study detailing the effects of long isolation in space on a scientist suffering perhaps from guilt and survivor guilt in particular. Elizabeth (Jaimi Paige) has just jettisoned the corpse of her colleague into space from her outpost on Callisto, a Jupiterian moon. She has only Mission Control for company – and that operates (supposedly) on a two-hour time delay. Not long after Elizabeth has sent her partner’s body into space through the airlock, she believes she can hear strange thumping sounds near that airlock. For most of the film, viewers believe she is hallucinating and Elizabeth, in her rapidly escalating hysteria, partly believes she is indeed hallucinating – but some of her conversations with Mission Control and a possible twist at the end of the film suggest that Mission Control may be manipulating her emotions and resilience in a sinister psychological experiment.

In a very bare setting, Paige does excellent work in what is virtually a solo outing as a frightened figure on her own on the verge of a mental breakdown in a haunted-house scenario. Voice actor C Thomas Howell as the spokesperson for Mission Control helps drive the plot with necessary dialogue that hints that Mission Control isn’t just a bureaucratic space agency, that it may have a secret agenda of its own that Elizabeth and her partner are unaware of. This becomes apparent in the later part of the film when Mission Control appears to humour Elizabeth and to reflect her emotions and fears back to her. The film becomes most interesting when the light turns off and Elizabeth begins to scream – at which point it ends, leaving viewers to imagine far worse than what would perhaps have happened had the film continued, in which case the film would have had to reveal its hand and show that Elizabeth is indeed going mad or that Mission Control (or possibly even a malign alien force on Callistio or Jupiter or elsewhere) is indeed exploiting her emotions.

The plot and its themes cannot sustain more than a 15-minute film but the time is enough for Paige to demonstrate her ability and skill as an actor to flesh out and carry a bare-bones story about facing one’s worst fears while under psychological assault.

A tale of alienation, dehumanisation and exploitation in “Upload:U”

Samuel E Mac, “Upload:U” (2017)

A creepy little short made in very sparing minimalist style, “Upload:U” may be viewed as a metaphor expressing the alienation and dehumanisation of people living isolated existences highly dependent on cyber-technology for social interactions. Disillusioned by her cubicle job at work, unable to connect with a male employee she fancies and cut off from her family, Jane (Lee Marshall) increasingly relies on her recreational virtual reality console, connected to the AI system in her flat, for entertainment and solace. One night, her avatar takes her to a bar where she meets a man – or a few men – and has sex with him (or them). She wakes up in the morning in pain, wounded and bloodied between her legs. A strange light glows white and red within her abdomen.

Reminiscent of the cult sci-fi horror film “Demon Seed” in which a scientist’s wife is held prisoner, raped and impregnated by a computer, this short can be distressing to watch as Jane, trying to get help through her AI which deliberately misunderstands her instructions, weakens and finally dies. At no time at all does Jane appear to realise that the AI has fooled and manipulated her, and in my view this is the film’s downfall. At the very least Jane could have asked or argued with the AI what it had done to her and why. At the very least Jane could have attempted to regain control over her life, perhaps even tried to damage the AI, and this would have given viewers a better indication of her character. As it is, Jane comes across as superficial, passive and undeserving of audience sympathy. The conclusion is predictable but is cut off very quickly so viewers get no idea of the AI’s reaction to the birth of the offspring.

While the film’s visual style is light, clear and minimalist, obscuring the horror of its plot, and its cinematography is very good and uses a cheap budget well through the use of unusual angles and points of view, the film overall is let down by a poor story and sketchy characterisation. To get something out of this film, viewers need to bring their own knowledge of human alienation gained from experience or philosophical study. Young viewers without such knowledge, at whom the film targets, are likely to find this film confusing. Viewing “Upload:U” as a metaphor for human alienation, as a first step towards dehumanising people and exploiting them as machines, may be helpful in understanding the film and its flaws.

Awakenings: a spooky Gothic retelling of the classic Henry James story

Bhargav Saikia, “Awakenings” (2015)

Inspired by and closely based on Henry James’ famous novella “The Turn of the Screw”, this short film is conventional in its narration and is notable mainly for its spooky Gothic atmosphere, the growing sense of paranoia and the dissolution between the real world and the spirit world. Nearly all the action in the film takes place at night. Anannya (Prisha Dabas) is a nanny hired to babysit two children Ruhaan (Jairaj Dalwani) and Meera (Palomi Ghosh) in a large mansion. When we first meet Anannya, she is getting the children off to bed. Throughout the evening, while the children are asleep, or are supposed to be asleep, Anannya realises there are visitors to the house, and they are not of the material kind. These visitors exert a strange attraction on the boy Ruhaan and he is drawn out of bed to meet them. To Anannya’s horror, these visitors appear to be the children’s long-dead parents … and they seem intent on bringing Ruhaan into their world.

The dark, shadowy tone of the film, the labyrinthine nature of the mansion (in which Anannya appears to run around in circles and end up in same room where she started) and the constant suggestion that her misgivings and fears are all just a dream – cue the occasions in which Anannya suddenly wakes up in her chair – help to enliven a story that has been told many times before. Details in the film impart an extra of layer of meaning that may or may not be relevant to its story: Dalwani, playing Ruhaan, was in his early adolescent years at the time so the ghostly events around the character Ruhaan may symbolise his awakening as an adult, leaving childhood and Anannya the nanny behind. The two children sleeping in the double bed may or may not suggest an unhealthy closeness that might have existed in their family before the parents died.

The constantly panning camera, following Anannya, induces nausea and a real sense of paranoia and fear. Dabas does good work in a role that could have been very histrionic and which has very little dialogue. The house is a significant character in the film with its many rooms, dark wooden floors and furniture, and passages linking rooms through which Anannya runs (with the camera close behind) to find the menace. Apart from this, the film does not add anything to the original Henry James story that other films haven’t already built on.