The Tamil-language Annabelle Sethupathi is a mishmash of various genres – the ghost story, the reincarnation drama, the revenge thriller, the madcap comedy in which numerous characters are crammed into a single frame and made to behave hysterically.

Rudra (Taapsee Pannu) belongs to a family of confidence tricksters that is itself tricked into a fake assignment. They are led to a sprawling and unoccupied mansion that is actually crawling with ghosts. The man who has brought them there wants Rudra and her parents and brother to clear the place of the spirits. Instead, Rudra gets involved in the mansion’s past and begins to wonder why some parts of it seem familiar to her.

It has something to do with the British woman Annabelle, who was married to the prince Sethupathi. The royal is played by Vijay Sethupathi, who makes his entry over an hour into the narrative and steadies what has been a slapstick and cartoonish comedy up until then.

Most of the laughs emanate from the never-ending antics of the undead and their encounters with the living. Using camera tricks and basic special effects, writer-director Deepak Sundarrajan conjures up a haunted house that is more benign than scary. He’s working on a sequel, if the end credits are to be believed.

Several actors run around and into each other over the course of the 136-minute film, including Jagapathi Babu, Radhika Sarathkumar, Rajendra Prasad, Vanella Kishore, George Maryan, Devdarshini and Subbu Panchu. Yogi Babu’s character Shanmugha, who used to be a cook at the mansion and has played a key role in the hauntings, is among the standout actors.

It’s no mean feat: Sundarrajan’s dialogue describes Shanmugha as “blackie” and “pig-face”. The slurs survive into the Hindi version, titled Annabelle Rathore (the “translated dialogue” is credited to Rishab Purohit). With no real chills to speak of, this, then, is the real horror of Annabelle Sethupathi, which is being streamed on Disney+ Hotstar.

Annabelle Sethupathi (2021).