Ludo, named after the Indian version of Parcheesi, is about an evil game that’ll do more than just bore you to death. A valiant genre attempt is made, and there’s plenty of hellacious gore, but Ludo tells two, very separated stories. Technically, the stories themselves are connected, but the way in which we’re transported from a modern-day shopping mall to biblical-looking caves is jarring beyond comprehension, and neither piece seems to fit snugly together. Filmmakers Qaushiq Mukherjee and Nikon are essentially banging a square peg into a round hold, trying hopelessly to make the two fractured objects become one, and spoiler alert – they don’t succeed.
Ludo begins by introducing a group of two girls and two boys, all of whom just want to fulfill their carnal instincts. It’s a typical Indian night, which means shitty rock concerts, skeevy hotel rooms, and nowhere to go, until one of the horny teens has an idea – boink in the mall after it’s closed! According to plan, everyone vacates the mall and leaves the hormone-driven heroes alone, except for an elderly couple begging for help. Seeing no other option, the kids agree, and get roped into playing a game with the two. You roll dice, follow the rules, and if you lose, you die. It’s here that the couple reveals themselves to be much more than drifters, and we learn where the game began its ravenous origins.
If you’ve seen Ouija, then, like me, you’ll probably have board-game-turned-horror-movie induced PTSD after watching Ludo. Killer toys are horrifying, just ask Chucky or Dolly, but a killer Parker Brothers game (or whatever the Indian equivalent to Parker Brothers is)? I get that Ludo is supposed to be more fun than scary, but it’s entirely too disjointed to be either, even in small doses.
We’re initially promised a sexual nightmare brought upon by children who are far too obsessed with getting laid, but then are thrown a tonal curveball that’s miles away from the strike zone. Instead, we find that story arc cut drastically short in favor of the game’s dark beginning. Qaushiq Mukherjee and Nikon speed through the film’s sultry opening in order to introduce a dangerous toy, then just as we’re getting a grip of the challenge at hand, the directors switch gears and start from square one. It’s a bold strategy, but one that certainly doesn’t pay off.
The split narrative kills whatever momentum Ludo is able to build while stumbling drunkenly around an abandon mall, as the children we invest in are completely ignored come a more ancient second half. Q and Nikon begin by introducing four characters, complete with still-frame name cards, but they’re disregarded once an old, seemingly random woman whips her game board out. From here, the film goes back in time to a setting filled with caves, temples, and a magical flute key that unlocks unspeakable playtime demons. A family curse is raised, the game claims many lives, and we repeatedly question why so much time was spent building previous angles that are cut short moments later.
While Ludo might be a tonal jumble of mismatching stories, there’s some stellar gore here, and a bonkers approach to filmmaking. This is meant as a compliment, but the overall tone is that of a former music video director, who loves playing around with frantic, high-octane intensity. Heavy metal riffs blare for a majority of the opening, which wasn’t expected from an Indian film, and there’s a cheeky attempt to turn cultural prudeness into a horror movie’s ideal concept. It’s like these characters have never seen a horror flick, and are trying incredibly hard just to die – aka have sex as quickly as possible. Silly horror movie kiddies, don’t they know sex equals death?
Ludo is two extremely different movies smushed into one freakish form, and while there’s a few highlights worth mentioning (very few), most of the film is much duller than expected. Empty malls with no security, old-testament-looking origins, and threats of a sequel? What we have here is a horror movie with an identity crisis, and a plot of ideas with little connection. One moment the children are being killed, the next they’re being petted by the same immortal grandma who chased them – and that’s just a taste of the confusion in store for you. Do yourself a favor and just play Monopoly with your family instead, there’s no way it can be any less horrific than the cinematic experience you’d otherwise endure.
Ludo, based on Indian Parcheesi, is about as fun as watching an all-day Risk tournament.