Movie Review : Radha (2016)
French-Irish filmmaker Nicolas Courdouan contacted me about the possibility of reviewing his short movie Radha a couple weeks ago, after my review of iconic cosmic horror author Laird Barron's brilliant new collection Swift to Chase went online. The timing and the pertinence of his request couldn't have been more convenient for horroctober: a new and intriguing voice in cosmic horror had just fallen on my lap. I've been discovering a lot of wonderfully terrifying stuff about horror in general this month, so I'm excited to make YOU guys discover something new today! Radha is a daring and inspired cosmic horror film that makes up for his few shortcomings with haunting imagery and a brooding atmosphere.
Radha is the story if a young woman named Saoirse (Sue Walsh), who decides to change lives after her sister passed away in an unspecified tragedy. She burns her personal belonging, changes her name to Chloe and (seemingly) leaves town. Saoirse cannot outrun the past, though and it catches up to her wherever she decides to go. Chased out of a house party by a surfacing memory, Saoirse stumbles upon the bizarre and magnetic performance of a mysterious dancer named Radha (Kojii Helnwein) who seems to know everything about her demons. Turns out Radha knows a lot of things about Saoirse. She knows where she's from and where she's heading better than Saoirse herself.
The driving idea behind Radha is that art is a transcendental experience. It allows you to access a place beyond the boundaries of human reality. It' like when you read a book, right? It transports you to a place that doesn't exist and yet becomes plausible through its relationship with the audience. Does that make sense? Fight Club was a product of Chuck Palahniuk's imagination until it wasn't anymore. Radha has a similar philosophy. The mysterious dancer's performances are thinning the boundaries between inescapable reality and the desires she projects (and seemingly hears), which has an addictive effect on the audience. Radha states her dancing rejuvenates her followers. Whether it is physically of emotionally affecting them is unclear, but it ushers the path to cosmic truths that wouldn't be available to mere mortals otherwise.
The dancing scene is worth your time alone. I've always been pretty oblivious to this art form in general, but writer and director Nicolas Courdouan subtly use of music and crafty editing shine a rather unique light on it. The soundtrack is deafening and it is unclear it is part of the performance of simply playing over the scene. It's unclear if actress Kojii Helnwein's graceful and rhytmic swaying is matching the music played and the result is...well...otherworldly, which I believe was the intention here. Radha says later in the movies that she dances like the tide, which emphasizes the depth of her connection with nature and the unknown. She seems animated by forces independent to her own will, like a malevolent God is commanding her body to open a celestial gate in order to feed on lost souls. This scene worked quite a number on me as you might've noticed.
Radha was a pleasant viewing overall. It has another fun, eerie gut punch to it (that I won't spoil), which reminded me the early 2000's films of Takashi Miike. Back when he was doing really fucked up shit. I was let down by the ending which felt easy and deliberately vague compared to the mysteries the movie hinted at. It doesn't add to the initial statement that art is a transcendental experience and merely repeats it in a less convincing way. This isn't uncommon to short films, though. It's tough to write an ending that lives up to its story and I don't begrudge Radha for not doing so. It offered enough original ideas and genuine creepy scares in order to be interesting. It's only twenty-two minutes long and it features a commanding performance by Kojii Helnwein. If you can manage to catch it, it's not a big investment of time. Try it. It has moments of transcendental cosmic horror that make the experience worthwhile.