Noob Reviews: Betaal
Please be advised that during the review, I have tried to avoid a lot of spoilers. However, there may still be a few included helping explain specific points.
What is Betaal?
Betaal is a Netflix original four-part mini-series that was released earlier this year.
The year is 1857, and one of the East India Company’s detachments, led by Lieutenant Colonel John Lynedoch has been cornered in an underground cave system. With the British beaten and the detail cut off from any hope of reinforcements. The colonel turns to the forces of darkness and summons the Indian folklore spirit Betaal, who offers incredible power and an immortal army with which Lynedoch can conquer India once again - as long as he is willing to sacrifice his youngest son. Ready, willing and following through with the sinister pact - the colonel and his forces are imbued with great power. But at the same time are unfortunately trapped in the underground cave system by the natives rebelling against them, who cause a cave-in at the tunnel’s mouth, trapping them under a colossal mountain.
Jump to modern-day, and a greedy business tycoon (Ajay Mudhalvan) and his associates are struggling against the descendants who beat back the British, to dig out the cave system beneath the mountain and build a new highway through the area. When coming face to face with stiff opposition to the construction project, Ajay calls in Commandant Tyagi (a corrupt military officer who abuses her power for financial gain and political backing). And her elite military unit (Baaz Squad) to bring order to the locals and protect Ajay’s interests whilst the road is built.
Unfortunately for all, what at first begins out as a seemingly straight forward operation soon descends into anarchy and madness as Bazz Squad are thrust into conflict with the farmers and locals of the remote village that had been protecting the mountain and its dark secret for generations. And the mountain itself is breached, unleashing the immortal army of the British East India Company and their cruel leader lieutenant colonel Lynedoch. The only hope for the survivors, to either escape or fight back long enough to find a way to stop Lynedoch and his undead horde from continuing on their original mission some hundred and sixty-three years old, and retaking India for the empire.
Do you have a trailer or trailers to show us?
- The official trailer linked from Netflix India’s YouTube channel -
Alternatively, you can also find Betaal on Netflix here.
When was Betaal released?
Betaal was released in May this year (2020).
How many episodes are there?
There are four episodes with each having a run time of around forty-six minutes. As of writing this, there has been no mention of a second season being commissioned by Netflix.
Who are some of the actors and actresses that we might know?
For a full cast listing, please see the official IMDB page here.
What did you think of Betaal?
Betaal is an entertaining and engaging twist on the modern horror zombie franchise that tried very hard to be a horror-comedy at times and really falls flat on its face when it does.
When it comes to the casting, I thought the actors did a great job in sucking you into the immersion and making you both love some and hate others. I thought the young girl (Saanvi) played her part really well and that Vikram, Ahluwalia and Puniya really did bring the right balance of urgency, emotion and thought-provoking dialogue at the right time. On the flip side, Ajay Mudhalvan (the business owner organising the construction company) was portrayed really well as a despicable and greedy man only out for himself. Some of the supporting cast though such as Haq, Akbar and even Lynedoch were really dull and added a minimal amount of context to the film. You could tell what exactly their role was and how they fit in, but their screen time was ultimately forgettable.
With regards to the script, it was a nice change of pace to your usual horror story and really stuck with the historical recounts it threw in. Even though they were few and far apart. Which is a shame as it was a core element to the film (the 1857 Indian revolution against the British). There is also a Brexit joke made, to appear funny and relevant in the modern period, which made me cringe it was so bad. And overall, the pacing was a light simmer throughout the full four episodes, at best, with no real dramatic change in speed from start to finish.
Effects wise there were not many effects bar that of Lynedoch appearing to ‘haunt’ those he possessed, such as Commandant Tyagi, which was really well done. And the visual effects/design of the British zombies which resembled a low budget version of the Ash vs Evil Dead Deadites from the tv series which ran between 2015-2018. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely looked very creepy, and the glowing red eyes would give anyone pause for thought, but they looked very samey to other undead monsters out there. And unlike other zombies, they undead British behaved more like vampires with gravity-defying wall crawls and ceiling runs - which again has been done before. But still was executed fantastically.
Overall there was a lot to take in for Betaal, and most of it was great. There is definitely a high entertainment value, but it really lets itself down in other areas and could have done so much more to set itself apart and put Indian horror on many more viewer’s radars. That been said, no spoilers, but I believe the ending of the mini-series was perfect to start a second season off from - and if a second season is announced I will definitely be watching.
What rating would you give Betaal?
I would rate Betaal as a 3.6 out of 5 bananas.
Betaal was a fun watch that just falls short of being unique. Although the pacing, script and character designs could use some work, I would definitely say that this is worth a watch for horror fans. However, if giving Betaal a look, please be aware that when listening to the original audio and reading the closed captions - the closed captions can be quite different from the vocal lines at times. Really changing the context and vibe of situations. Which is something that personally bugged me as there was no reliable consistency between the two throughout. However, admittedly I am not sure if these are bog-standard Netflix closed captions or provided by the production company, so I did not take these into account when scoring.
Thank you very much for checking out the review. If you are interested in Betaal and would like to check it out for yourself, to form your own opinion. You can check it out on Netflix here.