“KRIYA,” the new horror film by award-winning filmmaker Sidharth Srinivasan, was graded using DaVinci Resolve Studio by Delhi-based colourist Divya Kehr, with the film premiering at the virtual Fantasia 2020 film festival.
“KRIYA” is the nightmare odyssey of a young DJ named Neel who is picked up one fateful night by the beautiful Sitara, only to be thrust into a hallucinatory world of ritual magic surrounding the imminent death of her father. Following a 10-night shoot at a 150 year old colonial mansion in India in September of 2018, the film premiered in competition at Fantasia 2020.
Director Sidharth Srinivasan had an exact claustrophobic, reddish look and feel he wanted for the film that he knew had to come together during post-production.
“Filming in just 10 nights at a single location made for a pressure cooker, race against time shoot. ’KRIYA’ was a herculean task simply wrapping on schedule and we knew the look of the film would emerge during post, while grading,” Srinivasan said. “Ultimately, I think Divya and I arrived at the final look of the film through a painstaking but rewarding two month period of trial and error which resulted in a very earthy, dark, high contrast look with red tones predominating. A warm horror film, if you will.”
“Resolve did all the heavy lifting while grading, affording me a very smooth experience as a director and enabling me and Divya to experiment and enter a dialogue with the footage. It didn’t hurt that Divya is exceptionally comfortable with Resolve and has a highly refined aesthetic sense! The beauty of it was that the final look of the film, while highly stylized, was ‘organically’ dictated by the raw footage, and felt very natural. I’d like to believe we achieved an original ancient, sepia tinted feel, but in color, if that makes sense! To be very honest, Divya really pushed the footage to its max, and Resolve was instrumental in helping her achieve this,” he said.
Kehr added: “I’ve always seen modern film and especially the horror genre as more of resonating with the audience’s imagination than with what is exactly shown in the film. The film, or rather the matter filmed, is only the cue which is interposed in the mind of the audience whereas the actual effect is that of the interpretation the mind derives from the cues given. With Resolve’s ability to tweak the depth/hue of the colours of the film we were able to enhance the underlying tension we wanted to portray.”
The film is made up of a majority of close up and mid close shots, with several extreme close ups to maintain a feeling of claustrophobia. Throughout the film, Srinivasan and Kehr avoided a generic horror movie blue/green tone and worked to push a feeling of darkness in every shot.
Srinivasan continued: “The red tone of the film subconsciously evokes visceral, passionate and violent emotions. A warning to stand still or you will get burnt, and by extension a sense of inertia, of being unable to escape try as you may.”
To get that look, Kehr explained how Srinivasan asked her to make use of shadows and skin tones: “As the adage goes ‘It’s not the dark we’re afraid of its what hidden in it.’ Sid wanted the film to be super dark and wanted to push the envelope and overuse the shadows. So we had played around with the log window in Resolve quite a bit to tweak the shadows and highlights.
“That use of shadows made the shots more claustrophobic. We had used tight vignettes around most of the close up and mid shots and we also had to window and track everyone’s faces and increase the shadows accordingly as their skin tones were slightly different.”
One of the most dramatic shots in the film is of the protagonist’s dead father slowly walking down a dark hallway wide eyed and covered in blood. Used in the trailer and with all of the film’s press kit materials, the shot was incredibly important to set the feel of the film for viewers at the very start.
Kehr explained the grade for this shot: “We didn’t want the image to look dark and dull but dark and dramatic. The curve window gave us control over all the highlights for that. The entire room looked like it was lit by firelight. We had increased the mid tone details in this shot to make the blood stand out more. Darkening the shot had made the blood almost black in colour so we had also keyed some of it and used a parallel node to put the red back into it. Resolve’s luminance curve window worked quite well to get the blood the right colour in all the shots.”
Srinivasan continued: “Yes, I’m stoked with how that shot turned out. My DOP’s Karan Thapliyal and Lakshman Anand and I were very happy with the results on set too. It just came together I think: the actor’s skin tone, the lighting and the fake blood. Karan shot that scene on a gimbal in a massive open hallway in the mansion, one side facing the outside world. Of course, the footage was crushed majorly on Resolve, darkening the blood, but because the liquid was also catching the light, it became very real.”
“Divya and I collaborated very closely on the grade of ‘KRIYA.’ I cannot overstate how beneficial her proficiency on Resolve was to the ultimate look and feel of the film, a fact that has been acknowledged by many reviews of the film as well. Personally, I felt Resolve enabled me to translate my own personal demons onto the image, in terms of color. I was actually blown away by how effortlessly the software can interpret what’s going on in your mind’s eye, which is oftentimes indescribable, and deliver it in concrete visuals,” Srinivasan finished.