The first feature film from director Navin Ramaswaran, Nara can best be described as nightmarish visuals meets cleverly established screenwriting. Truthfully when it comes to independent cinema, I find that I know what to expect from these movies at all time. Independent artists are generally divided into two camps, those that want to be experimental and try new things and those who want to establish themselves in the world of genre cinema. Now, Nara is without question more a part of the experimental train of thought but it is also firmly rooted in the world of genre cinema. The interesting thing about Nara however is that unlike the many independent films I review on a monthly basis, experimental or genre, it actually surprised me with its narrative. Using establishing shots, flashbacks and other very basic plot devices throughout the film was able to actually keep me guessing all the way up until the very end. Ramaswaran does something simple with his movie that few inexperienced filmmakers think to attempt, he does not explain every little twist to the audience. Instead he allows our minds to wander as he fleshes out this very small story. In the end, we’re always off balance and always guessing at just what will happen next.
Our film begins with a young couple visiting a supposedly haunted building. It is their first date and the gentleman doesn’t appear all that gentlemanly. As he tries to force himself on the young lady he has dragged to this abandoned building, someone comes out of the darkness and scares him off. Next we follow an awkward young man named Blaine who invests all of his time in writing his journal and creating a collage that covers his wall with cut out frames from magazines. When he stumbles upon a crime scene where a young college girl is found dismembered, he gathers up the girl’s head and takes it back to his apartment where he creates a shrine for it. After a nightmare, the young man awakens and finds the head talking to him. She explains her name was Nara, and she becomes Blaine’s best friend until we are re-introduced to the young woman from our introduction. As it turns out, she is indebted to Blaine for helping her when her psychotic first date attempted to rape her. The two begin a fast-relationship which develops despite Blaine’s awkward behavior. However, will Nara approve of this relationship and how will Blaine’s new girlfriend take to this talking specter?
From a technical standpoint, there is very little to fault Nara with. It is a really beautiful looking piece of independent cinema, with a great use of awkward colors and eclectic mixes. The lighting and the set design creates a really dilapidated and uncomfortable feel throughout as we see this character Blaine wander around his own version of reality. It is a very sick but beautiful looking feature and I loved that quality about the movie. I was hooked from the first first nightmare sequence during the movie, where we see a blood/gore covered angel staring into the camera. I knew at that point something interesting was happening. Navin Ramaswaran manages to craft an experimental look to go with his heavily structured movie and these two ideas (the improvisational dark appearance and the very nuanced plot development) work very well together. The performances are also universally strong as there are very few sequences where any performer seems out of place. The character of Blaine can seem a bit wooden, but as we find the less we know about Blaine – the better. The entire concept of a beautiful woman falling for a very weird/socially inept misfit seems fairly implausible to me but that could simply be my own bitterness talking. Aside from that little pet peeve, I was there with Nara the entire time it played and it had me hooked.
It has its issues, like any film does, but it shows a great deal of creative promise from Ramaswaran. I am personally interested in seeking out more of his work, as he has directed a couple of items since this debut. His visual aesthetic and nack for storytelling makes him an artist to keep your eyes out for. Definitely search this one out if you have the opportunity. You can read more about the project at http://www.spliceproductions.ca/nara.