In Flames: This supernatural horror, a remarkable debut film, will keep you hooked

Impressive Ramesha Nawal plays Mariam, a medical student whose father mysteriously died

In Flames
    
Director: Zarrar Kahn
Cert: 15A
Genre: Horror
Starring: Ramesha Nawal, Bakhtawar Mazhar, Omar Javaid, Mohammad Ali Hashmi, Adnan Shah Tipu
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins

There are many reasons to feel terrified watching Zarrar Kahn’s engrossing supernatural horror. The impressive Ramesha Nawal, making her screen debut in this favourite from last year’s Directors Fortnight programme at Cannes, plays Mariam, a young medical student whose father died in mysterious circumstances. When her grandfather also dies, her family are in serious jeopardy. As all of the bills, debts and modest assets were in the grandfather’s name, other men in the extended family have a right to seize them. Sure enough, their predatory Uncle Nasir (Adnan Shah Tipu) soon arrives.

He has an eye on the apartment where Mariam, her daydreaming much younger brother and their mother live. That may not be all Nasir has an eye on. Meanwhile, there are strange screeching noises and odd shapes. As Hitchcockian tensions mount, men occupy the same eerie, dangerous space as The Birds. One man masturbates while Mariam looks down from her room; another attempts to hijack her car; a faith healer licks her hand. Crowded, high-rise-shadowed blocks of their Karachi neighbourhood amplify the sense that everything is closing in.

Happily, Asad (Omar Javaid), a fellow student of Mariam’s who recently returned from Canada, is more progressive than the other Karachi males she encounters. The pair form a friendship and eventually plan a date to a beach house, a nightmarish destination that could easily share a postcode with the dementia house in Natalie Erika James’s Relic.

Kahn lacquers the film, which was Pakistan’s entry to the Academy Awards, with unsettling bursts of colour. The many textures and mysteries don’t always fit together. Indeed, the movie is better when it trades in real-world patriarchal controls and abuses rather than things that go bump in the night. But this remarkable debut feature will keep you hooked until the final reveal.

  • In Flames is in cinemas from Friday, May 24th
Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic