Horror fantasy fiction can be considered campy because, after a point, one does indulge more in the production, the hammy acting, and the weird direction of the film rather than the story. Most of the time, these films have a predictable story that ends the same way. There are not many layers or complexities that can be explored when it comes to this genre unless there is a genuine amount of time invested in developing a good story and screenplay. Spirited or Jagat Arwah, the Indonesian name of the film, is all about a young boy discovering the history of his family and ever since then, he has been pushing himself to pursue the legacy that has been left behind by his father. Will the boy abandon his family’s legacy or fulfill the path that has been chosen only for him? Released on September 29, 2022, and directed by Ruben Adrian, the movie is now streaming on Netflix.
Spirited or Jagat Arwah is all about the Jagat stone, which was created to find a balance between the spirit realm and the human realm. The Dark One, blinded by ambition, wanted to use the Jagat stone to create havoc and seek power. The enlightener steps in and chooses the most loyal bloodline to safeguard the stone from being taken advantage of. The family is the Aditya clan, who protected the Jagat stone, did not let anyone outside of their family know about the identity of their family, and made sure the stone remained safe for generations. Sounds familiar? The prologue of the film is eerily similar to Ayaan Mukherjee’s Brahmastra, and it is hard to take your eyes away from the fact that two films from two different countries have similar visuals and prologues. Co-incidence much? Maybe yes, maybe not. The movie quickly shifts to the life of young Raga, a musician who plays with a band. Raga dreams of taking his band all over the country and becoming a well-known guitarist, but for that to happen, he will have to get permission from his father. Raga and his relationship with his father has not exactly soured, but the boy does not approve of the way his father lives, which is by selling medicinal oil and herbs. His father secretly works as an exorcist who helps people get rid of supernatural elements. Raga, on the other hand, has no plan to become what his father is, because he claims to have a bigger aim in life like any other boy his age. This is a typical late-teen angst of a boy who wants to do something different for himself and become popular based on his hard work.
Raga tries to communicate with his father, but it does not go well, and on the same night, his father is called to look at a spirit in the hope of capturing it. When a father and their child get into a disagreement in a film, a tried-and-tested cliche kicks in. Raga’s father dies trying to bring a spirit under control, and with his father gone, Raga finally starts seeing supernatural elements around him, which is utterly confusing for him, initially. This is where the hero’s journey begins. The hero’s journey is a typical plotline seen in any of the fictional tales where the lead character, mostly a young lad, tends to lose everything, and his way to get back at whatever is his right is what we call a hero’s saga. But the question is, why do such stories have to be predictable? Why cannot the story be written for the screen in such a manner that one gets invested throughout the running time of the film?
The story of Spirited is as basic as a white t-shirt you find at any clothing store. It is predictable and easy to assume what will happen in the upcoming runtime of the film. With Raga discovering his legacy and the fact that there was a prophecy about him taking over from his father, a young boy like him would find it difficult to fathom this huge piece of information that was kept away from him for a long time. Raga was uninformed about practically everything about his family, who are the descendants of the Aditya clan that took care of the Jagat stone from the beginning of time. Raga jumps into knowing who his father was and what he would have to do to make sure his family’s ancestral legacy does not come to a close.
There could have been a moment like Harry Potter had in the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The boy was given ample time to understand the history of the family and get used to the fact that he was a wizard. Here, the screenplay jumped right into the middle of a battle, making Raga quickly learn about his family’s secret power instead of gradually helping the boy understand his family’s past. Raga’s character was rushed into making his quest believable. His acceptance of his family’s history of handling ghosts and having friendly, protective supernatural elements on their side makes it seem the boy did not have any conflict in his mind. There are characters introduced midway through the one hour, forty-seven minutes of this film, and they just walk in without any proper introduction, and there is no purpose served by them in this narrative going further. I wish there was enough time given to develop other characters instead of speeding up the process of introducing them without any explanation of why they are here in this universe. This film makes one wonder how it could have been improved if only there was proper source material, like a book, from which the writers could have adapted and made a structured screenplay. Source material allows the writer to understand the importance of supporting characters, their arcs and their role in taking the narrative forward.
Apart from the screenplay and storytelling aspects, the direction also suffered because of the speeding up of the narrative. The movie felt like the makers were in a hurry to conclude the story. Marred by plenty of lazy camerawork and haphazard direction, the movie became a victim of too much time and money spent on the production of the film and the VFX and practical effects. Both aspects of the movie are commendable, which is why it makes it easier to watch the film till the end.
But sadly, these two were not enough to give the movie traction and keep it engaging till the end. The performances were also not up to the mark, and as mentioned right above, it ventured into borderline hamming. There were no proper arcs given to any one of the characters, which reduced many actors, including the lead, to just enunciating the dialogue and not working on the emotions at all. One can only hope that the film could have been better. Spirited or Jagat Arwah ends with the promise of a sequel. Hopefully, the makers will give more time to the storytelling in that movie.