The central character in Ashwin Saravanan’s horror-tinged thriller is a video game creator, so it follows that her travails resemble a series of obstacles.
Some of these are in her head. Sapna (Taapsee Pannu) is a survivor of a crime that has left her anxiety-ridden. In a sprawling house with only the household help, Kalamma (Vinothini), and a guard for company, Sapna tries to get back to work while listlessly trying to improve her score on the classic video game Pac-Man.
Outside, a serial killer who likes to behead young women is on the prowl. The killer records his deeds on a camera even as he commits them, adding an extra visual layer to a film that deftly uses point-of-view camerawork and tight framing to create traps for Sapna. The idea of a home invasion is also extended in an interesting way as Sapna battles demons within and without.
Leanness is the name of the game here: the characters number a handful; jump scares are judiciously deployed; the dialogue is minimal to the point of being functional (Game Over was originally made in Tamil and has been dubbed in Hindi). A detour into sentimentality is so jarring that it is a relief when it ends.
Saravanan and co-writer Kaavya Ramkumar deliver a taut and highly watchable thriller that, despite falling short of its ambitions, has a clever take on the way in which violence against women gets imprinted on bodies and souls. The insistence on self-reliance and resilience among brutalised women is, however, not always unconvincing, and the linking of Sapna’s anxieties to a larger culture of assault needed some more fleshing out.
Taapsee Pannu turns out a doughty performance as Sapna, who is restricted by her fears in psychological and literal ways, and Vinothini is equally effective as Sapna’s carer. As these women forge a sisterhood of sorts and navigate their way past the curveballs thrown their way, they suggest that the horror film can function just fine without men in it. At least on this score, Game Over is a modest triumph.