Warning: This Ghoul article contains spoilers! Run, while you can!
I was perusing around Netflix the other day and came across a recommendation for Ghoul (2018). It’s a short three-episode miniseries that uses Arabic folklore to scare its audience. The show’s written and directed by Patrick Graham and is produced by the people of Get Outand Insidious. So, I was more than intrigued.
Now, I’m a fan of horror films. I love finding new things that exploit our fear of the unknown. I especially love it when a person’s work momentarily convinces us that their monsters exist in our world. The things that leave us wondering: what’s really out there? When I first saw Ghoul, I thought this show would be one of them. Instead, I find myself feeling rather “meh” about it.
What’s It About?
Ghoul (2018) starts with a new recruit named Nidha Rahim (Radhika Apte) arriving at a military detention center. She helps interrogate a man named Ali Saeheed (Maheesh Balraj), an infamous terrorist who’s been captured alive for questioning.
After seeing many endlessly torture Saeheed for information, Nidha notices how every interrogator grows alarmingly unsettled after working with him. They all end up attacking him out of fear of hearing the information he goads them with. He plays on the officers’ paranoia by tormenting them with their darkest secrets. Nidha, especially, experiences a series of strange supernatural occurrences whenever she’s around him.
In spite of their efforts, Saeheed never dies under torture, leaving Nidha to believe he’s not human. After consulting with another inmate – a priest who knew Saeheed as a child – the protagonist learns that Saeheed is a ghoul. (A “biblical” creature that’s summoned to punish the guilty.) The Ghoul wears the skin of its victims and won’t leave until it’s killed all those who’ve sinned. (The Ghoul also only kills within proximity of the one who summoned it.)
Does The Setting Matter?
Ghoul’s setting is actually one of the best parts of the show. The story takes place in a dystopian future. Things such as religion and philosophy are heavily regulated by the government. Those who are caught practicing are sent to underground military detention centers where they are heavily interrogated and left to die.
A majority of the series takes place in the military detention center with the prison being the most interesting part of the building. It’s the area with the worst living conditions, and I love how it’s set up.
A lot of the prisoners are placed in cramped cells with copious amounts of puddles on the floor. All windows in the building are blacked out, and their only source of light comes from yellow lights hanging outside their cells. The entire room is illuminated under a dampened shade of yellow which feeds well into the ambience of hopelessness.
The torture chamber is where most of the “spooky” moments happen. It hosts the best scenes in the show. The chamber cleverly contributes to the irony of who actually holds power in the room (the torturer or the tortured). It’s located in the far end of the prison and is heavily monitored in the first couple of episodes.
The room, for the most part, is a germophobe’s nightmare. It’s a depressingly dark room with rust and mold growing everywhere. The chamber is also frequently covered in blood. (If anything, it looks like something out of Konami’s Silent Hill franchise.)
Are The Characters Any Good?
The main cast for this show is pretty decent, they’re good actors –- and their motives are believable. The only problem is that I just don’t care about them or their objectives. It’s true, their backstories have the potential to be interesting. They act like they’re trying to do the right thing for society. Radhika (Nidha) especially does a good job portraying a smart protagonist with a strong sense of loyalty towards her beliefs. However, I couldn’t bring myself to bat an eye about whether she lived or not.
There’s nothing likable about anyone in this show. Everyone spends most the series fighting each other for answers rather than working together to survive. There were plenty of times where I just sat there in disbelief because I never once thought, “oh no, don’t kill them.”
They felt like cannon fodder to me (the main character included) because they all died for the sake of elimination.
When I watched this, I didn’t mind seeing the guards die (they’re stupidly arrogant, and I hate them). However, I wanted to like the prisoners. They seemed like “good people” being imprisoned under extreme circumstances. Unfortunately, once the Ghoul starts taking action, I realize they’re as bad and insignificant as everyone else in this show.
There’s a “traitor” among the prisoners, an innocent man named Ahmed (Muzaffar Khan). I wanted to care about him. He appears significant as everyone suspects that he summoned the ghoul. Ahmed’s also the first to reveal the truth about the center to the protagonist (that they’re sent there to die). Other than that, I found myself questioning: what was the point of including him into the main story? He has no purpose in being there, and his fate is left unknown by the end of the series.
The Ghoul (or “Ghul”) is the only likable character in this series. He acts like a homicidal parrot that mimics the guilt of his victims back onto them. (I’m going to refer to this monster as a “he” because he starts the show in a male form.) He shows that their deaths are brought upon them by their own actions and kills them accordingly.
(Granted, he only goes after those who are guilty.) The Ghoul is more of an anti-hero figure than a villain, albeit a very dark one. He’s there to open the protagonist’s eyes to what she’s doing since her certainty in her past decisions wavers when she enters the prison.
Is It Worth The Watch?
Ghoul (2018) is pretty tame by my standards. It has a good premise, and I liked the message behind the story. However, the series falls flat for me halfway through the last episode. Ghoul focuses more on trying to create chaos among characters than the monster itself. The being is more of a secondary concern for everyone as they’re too preoccupied with figuring out the “truth” about their situation (or keeping it hidden).
My biggest disappointment with this miniseries is that the monster stops being scary the moment we discover its motives. By revealing the Ghoul’s origin early on, the show gives away the suspense of who dies. Our fear of the unknown dissipates the moment we start predicting what happens to the characters, with innocence playing a huge factor on whose spared.
(I hate this idea in the horror genre; death shouldn’t discriminate since it comes to everyone regardless.) We feel “safe” in knowing that the Ghoul won’t kill us because we don’t usually do anything that deems us as bad people. My immersion is ruined at that point, and I was left disenchanted for the finale.
So should you watch it? Despite my many complaints, Ghoul is not a bad miniseries to watch in your free time. The story is decent, albeit a little lackluster towards the end. If you can tolerate watching some scary stuff, I’d say go for it. Watch it while it’s on Netflix. A lot of people like it; I’m just someone who’s in between about it.