Film Review: IRUL: Ghost Hotel (2021)

[Contains Spoilers]

The third film to come out of KUMAN Pictures’ first batch of feature films is none other than IRUL: Ghost Hotel by Prem Nath, a Tamil film about an abandoned haunted hotel in Penang. Shot entirely in a style paying homage to films like the Blair Witch Project, the film incorporates the shaky cam film style through the plotline of a producer and her crew filming a documentary on the haunted hotel together with a team of ghost hunters. It is later revealed that the producer is actually in search of her brother who had gone missing after going on vacation with his girlfriend and his last known location was the hotel. 

IRUL: Ghost Hotel is rich in terms of exposition, but unlike your typical horror flick, it does not really incorporate jumpscares or tense music compositions to create tension. Instead, it uses mere stillness and silence, long shots of the same location or position that builds the tension to a point where the impatient audience is tormented by waiting for something to happen. It is horror for the mind and also the senses whereby the audience is left in constant anticipation, never knowing when the climax is coming. 

The build up throughout the entire film was well timed and executed by Nath’s directing. While the pacing throughout the film may seem erratic with some long lingering shots cutting straight to running scenes where the audience only sees the ground and some feet, what the filmmaking does is transport the audience into the perspective of the characters themselves, amplifying the viewing experience. 

This complemented with the style in which IRUL: Ghost Hotel is shot clearly showcases Nath’s steady control over the entire filmmaking process. The transitions between the different ‘cameras’ in the film (DSLR to GoPro, for example) are smooth and edited very naturally that nothing is unintentionally jerky or out of place. There is nothing amateur about the filmmaking and that is evident. Every shot, while made to be ‘natural’ or ‘amateur’ looking, is still very sophisticated and flows well throughout the film. 

If there was a fault to be found in the film, it would be the injection of ideology too late in the plotline, as well as the unnecessary added element of gore. The very brief historical explanation of the Indian labourers making a deal with the devil to escape the cruelties of British colonialism came very late in the film & was only a three to five line explainer that basically summarised the entire purpose of the film. If the ideological message was to have any impact, it would have needed to be present throughout the film through different subtle hints at least, as opposed to thrown onto the audience in a single soliloquy. 

There are also the brief displays of attempted gore - bodies having been ‘eaten’ with guts spilling out, etc - that are done rather poorly. Where the sophisticated filmmaking style succeeded, the art and effects department did not, making the attempt at gore rather campy and almost theatrical. Given that the film was shot under a small budget however, it is a fairly forgivable element. 

All in all, Nath should be highly commended for his control and precision over most aspects in the film that really brought the audience on the journey of paranormal discovery with the characters. With IRUL: Ghost Hotel, Nath has created a horror film that goes back to basics of high tensions and playing on anticipation that also features a different part of Malaysian society, which despite its flaws still makes it a must-watch. 

IRUL: Ghost Hotel is streaming in Malaysia on Astro First.

Review by Sheril A Bustaman
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