To be the first at anything is always an exciting prospect, particularly when that label becomes exponentially less attainable with time. While there have been a few found footage films to make their way out of India, there are so few that to even say the format is in its infancy there seems overly enthusiastic. Add to the fact that Vazhiye is the first in the Malayalam language and there is further reason for the FF fan to have their interest piqued.

Given that the found footage genre has found the most popularity and success in the west, filmmakers from other countries have chosen the format as a point of interest as they reinterpret it through their own experiences with media (social, tv, etc) and the horror films of their region. As a result, some directors have reached cult status among FF nerds–like Kôji Shiraishi–and there are still fascinating productions that remain hidden to the majority but are worth tracking down (Salvage). Enter, director/writer Nirmal Baby who has poised himself to make an impact in the found footage genre with Vazhiye aka The Trail. 

Albin is struggling to get his YouTube channel off the ground. After a few planned videos don’t get the views he was hoping for, he decides to shift focus into the popular category of ‘horror’, specifically ‘real ghost encounters’. To produce a hit video, he enlists his girlfriend Teena to come with him into the woods to a location that is rumored to be a past execution site for dissidents of royalty. After a rather peaceful night, the two are confronted by masked men and are thrust into a nightmarish scenario.

Though there are teases of the supernatural throughout the production, the elements of horror are grounded in real terror: humans hunting humans. Furthermore, there is an ingenious aspect of introducing different layers of depravity into the realm of creating YouTube content, with Albin’s more lighthearted approach coming up against a much more sinister content creator.

It is in this setup and commentary that Vazhiye really sets itself apart from many of its counterparts. Arguably, the film captures the same obsession with dark content on the internet in films such as Dark Web and The Den, but from a culturally different perspective. This alone makes the film a welcome addition among the many films in the found footage genre.

Often, the found footage genre is defined by its minimalistic approach and bringing in elements to give a cinematic atmosphere that can be met with disdain among the purists (Think George Romero’s Diary of the Dead). However, the inclusion of composer Evan Evans adds an edge that gives it some heft behind its modest budget. Additionally, the cinematography and editing, though inconsistent (more on that below), work together to really add an extra layer of polished dread. If anything, Vazhiye knows when to lean into a certain style by utilizing all aspects of the production to make sure the moments meant to shock, do just that.


However, there are a few elements that drag down the overall experience. To start, the center portion of the film feels in sharp contrast to the beginning and end. Focusing on the relationship between Teena and Albin, the electronic score is replaced by sappy guitar, and the quick cuts used previously make way for drawn-out montages. Unfortunately, this section of the film is the least engaging in both visuals and narrative. At around 1 hr 15 min before the credits hit, the production could have used some trimming and been much more impactful at about the hour mark (for those unfamiliar with the genre the 1 hour found footage film is actually very common).

This also brings into question the structure of the narrative, specifically the characters that are added near the climax of the story. Arguably, an earlier reveal would have aided in Vazhiye not feeling so heavily loaded towards the end. For example, there was certainly room to evoke a consistent sense of dread if the main characters were under the constant assumption they were “being watched”. Instead, there is a large exposition dump leading up to the closing moments that makes for a pretty inconsistent experience–a bit of restructuring could have improved the ability to keep the viewer captivated throughout.

Vazhiye is not without its faults, and while it would be easy to get bogged down in the things it does trip up on, the found footage film from India still does enough to impress and is a wonderful first for Malayalam cinema. In true Found Footage fashion, there is already an announcement of numbers 2 & 3 to push the film into a notable franchise. Undeniably, I had my issues with the film but I can only see each entry marking an improvement off from a solid baseline–things are poised to be more hectic and intense under the direction of Nirmal Baby, I can’t wait to see what transpires in the sequels.


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