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The Underbug (2023)


The Hindu and Muslims are at odds, dying in the streets–unable to come to terms with one another. While the religious war rages on, two rioters find refuge in a house–and they will instantly be put to the test. The Underbug sees the two men struggling not only with one another, but with themselves, their own psyches, and the reality of the world in which they’ve found themselves. When a dark presence makes itself known inside the house–the two men will see struggle like never before.

The use of light and dark to juxtapose tones and characters throughout the course of The Underbug is one of the best things that I’ve seen in a long time in film. The use of light is important, and it’s used all the time in film–but not in this capacity. It’s so brilliantly constructed, and it creates a truly terrifying sense throughout. This aspect of the film is done with such expertise, and in a way that draws viewers into the film rather than shutting them out–and every second of the film, every word spoken, every shift in tone, is brought to life by the lighting. The Underbug is horrifying, as it’s meant to be–and it all starts with said lighting.

Both Ali Fazal and Hussain Dalal are brilliant actors. From the moment they enter, from their first words, they convey a sense of urgency and stress–unrelenting throughout The Underdog. There’s an amazing chemistry between the two actors, but that’s only part of the reason they find so much success. They feed off of one another with great aplomb, but their ability to convey emotion in a way that’s so relatable and accessible is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Their display of acting prowess is impeccable–I’d even go as far as to use the word perfect to describe them. From humor to drama, and everything in between, Fazal and Dalal are simply incredible–perfect in every moment.

The emotional struggle created by the handful of writers, and Director Shujaat Saudagar (also a writer), is strange–and it takes some digging in order to understand exactly what The Underbug is trying to say. As the film progresses, and more and more dialogue is exchanged between characters, I believe that the struggles presented on screen can represent a series of different things. Viewers might take it as just what it appears to be, emotional struggle–trying to understand who we are. It’s possible that we look at the film and understand it as the struggle of race and religion currently present around the world. Maybe viewers even understand The Underbug as a tale about physical trauma. Each and every one of these is accurate–and I don’t think that anyone would say otherwise. The narrative and the metaphor are far reaching, and I think they have the potential to reach each and every person if they’re willing to give it a chance.

The Underbug is one of the first films that I’m watching from the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival. I have to say, even with only a few films under my belt so far, I’d venture to guess that this is one of the best (if not THE best). The Underbug is a wonderful combination of emotions, it’s brilliantly accessible, and Fazal and Dalal are simply incredible. This is a great start to the festival and a great start to the year.

Directed by Shujaat Saudagar.

Written by Abbas Dalal, Hussain Dalal, & Shujaat Saudagar.

StarringAli Fazal, Hussain Dalal, & Areenah Fatima.




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