Screens at CIFF: 10/16 & 10/18
World premiere: 10 May, 2013, India
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle meets infamously terrible video game adaptation House of the Dead. I can't actually say what it sounds like to me at this point, but having seen Go Goa Gone, I can tell you that it is fucking wonderful, the best zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead, in which a pair of excellent well-drawn stoner roommates go to a rave on a remote island where everybody who takes a designer drug turns into a raging cannibalistic corpse, blocking the way back to the only boat anywhere near the island.
In fact, I might go so far as to say that Go Goa Gone is the movie that "fixes" House of the Dead, as their plots are similar in so many ways, and I think there's even a lesson to be learned here: it is possible to take zombie films too seriously. Hopefully this doesn't strike anyone as a life-changing insight, but it's actually quite striking how much more tolerable and downright playful some of the stupidest developments a story can be forced through can be when they're being treated with an insouciant touch by the filmmakers, and foisted upon character far too deliberately comic to permit and kind of serious story to be told about them. It's not that our druggie friends Hardik (Kunal Khemu) and Luv (Vir Das) don't take the thought of being devoured by zombies seriously, because they plainly do. But we do not take them seriously, and so it's easier to laugh at their plight, and find the whole thing a giddy blast of shallow fun. Do this by accident and through incompetence, and you are Uwe Boll. Do this on purpose, because you are ultimately only making a hang-out movie, and you are Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru (credited as DK & Raj), and your movie is one of the best midnight films in search of an appreciative cult audience that I have seen in many a day.
It's painfully simple: Hardik and Luv are looking to goof off (Hardik got fired for having sex at work, Luv just got dumped in an especially humiliating way), and get wind of the rave in the state of Goa on the western coast of India. Finding out that their all-business roommate Bunny (Anand Tiwari) has business in Goa, they convince him to let them ride along, and in hardly any time all of them are at the party, having nothing resembling enough money to try the new, brightly colored, and glowing party drug that the rave is meant to promote. The next day, zombies everywhere: while trying to escape, the three stumble across Luna (Puja Gupta), a girl who survived the horror of the night before only because Luv was annoying her and she ducked out, and Boris (Saif Ali Khan), a Delhi native who joined the Russian mafia and now fancies himself Russian, who was associated with the group that produced the fatal drug. He and his silent full-blooded Russian friend are also the only people left alive on the island who can operate a gun at all, and thus become the most welcome members of the band of ragged survivors, even if Boris is also, in his very consciously bad-ass behavior and his gloriously old-school Cold War villain accent, the damn silliest character in the movie by a mile.
The film is pretty idiotic in every way, but it's saved - made goddamn straight-up brilliant, I dare say - by the completely effortless chemistry between Khemu and Das, who evoke in every beat that they share the complimentary rhythms of two completely shallow and disreputable straight male friends who are the dearest soulmates that either will ever know. Much of what goes on in the movie is of the lowest-brow sort; the characters keep it feeling sweet and joyfully humane and worth watching, because even if there's not a single moment when we don't feel distinctly better than the two of them, there's never any mockery or superiority present in the film, which contentedly presents them as a pair of guys who have a lot to learn and will learn it eventually. Some of it even on this trip, though the sermonising is kept to a bare-bones minimum.
The other thing that keeps the movie buzzing along is DK & Raj's comic-book directing style, involving wacky onscreen graphics (three of which separate the film into chapters based on each word of its title - rather cleverly, I might add) and lots of bright colors - screamingly azure swimming pools, cherry-red blood, and so on. It's glitzy pop-art with zombies and potheads, shallow fun but extravagantly exhilarating fun, and that's surely the part that matters more: as horror comedies go, there's barely enough horror to fill a thimble, but when the comedy manages to be this good-natured and this ditsily funny, that's worth sacrificing a bit of menace from your zombies.
Bonus! Owing to an ad campaign that ran afoul of India's smoking laws, the film (at least its CIFF print) has a delightfully weird anti-smoking PSA glued to the front of it, and onscreen captions reminding the viewer not to smoke any time that tobacco, marijuana, or any other substance that can be burned and inhaled is enjoyed onscreen. So on top of everything else, the film has the bizarre gloss of being the strangest anti-drug message movie I've ever seen.