Suburban Tale (Tamso) (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. Stephen Alexander (2023)
A young woman who can't hold down a job is called home by her family to be a caretaker... for a monster.
Familial bonds can be the strongest bonds in a person's life, and the obligations that come along with it can range from the mundane to the life-changing. When you're the black sheep of the family, these obligations are expected to be fulfilled despite never receiving the familial support like one who is accepted into the greater family unit. Such is the case for Radhika (Rashmi Somvanshi), the central character in this family drama/horror that finds her responsible for the care of her monstrous brother Deepu on the even of her sister's wedding. Deepu's uncontrollable nature and beastly behavior threaten to ruin the big day, so Radhika must do what she can to hide him away from those who would judge the family.
Though it may not have been intended, Suburban Tale can be easily taken as an allegory for families with a neurodivergent child that doesn't fit with the face that they desire to show to their friends and neighbors. Deepu can, at times, be terrifying, whether due to a lack of understanding of his circumstance or the behavior that errs so greatly from what could be deemed acceptable in polite society. Nevertheless, he is a family member that deserves the same respect and love as any other, regardless of how difficult it may be to coexist with his tantrums.
While Deepu's tale may be sad, Radhika's is all the sadder, a young woman desperate for acceptance who stoops to embellishing her dead-end job to try to gain her father's approval. Of course, her efforts will never prove good enough for her parents, who are forever devoted to their favorite child's every whim, leaving Radhika to flounder in a life as devoid of meaning as her career. Suburban Tale delivers a heartbreaking exploration of her trauma that has continued from childhood to adulthood and the impact is has had on her experiences throughout her young life.
The film itself is competently shot, a wide-ranging cinematography that is at times relatively banal and at others frenetic and invigorating. The pacing is more drama than horror, a slow-moving treatise on the complexities of blood relations and the strain that those difficulties can have on every area of a person's life. As we explore Radhika's inner turmoil and her relationship with the family's demon, we take a deep dive into her unglamorous life and share in the pain and hopelessness that has brought her and her family to this place.
While I wouldn't call Suburban Tale enjoyable, it's an incredibly deep film that utilizes the elements of horror to portray a heartbreaking tale of family tragedies and a life unlived. It's an attempt to make horror deeper than it often becomes, and it succeeds more often than not. Somvanshi is stellar in the lead, delivering an incredibly complex performance that carries the entire film. The ending is a bit of a twist, perhaps one that its audience will see coming, but it all serves to make the whole melodrama more harrowing and pitiable. If you're okay with your horror being a bit less straightforward, I would definitely recommend giving this one a shot.
Who this movie is for: Drama horror lovers, Psychological thriller fans, Black sheep
Bottom line: I don't come across very many Indian horror flicks, and of those I have, this is one of the better choices. It's devastatingly sad, at times quite creepy, and a film that gets you right in your gut. Radhika's sad life is one that echoes in reality, and while I wouldn't call Suburban Tale a joyous ride, it's still a journey well worth taking. This one is showing at Fantastic Fest and will hopefully be available to a wider audience soon.