Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix's Ghoul. Proceed at your own risk.
In the first episode of Netflix's horror miniseries Ghoul, an emaciated man stumbles out from the darkness to reveal he's been gutted with a knife, two symbols that look a bit like lungs drawn onto his chest with a knife. He's muttering, "Everyone's dead." This is all in the opening minutes of the episode. Ghoul does not waste time being creepy, bloody, and angry. But the blood isn't the scary part. By the end of the three-part series, nearly every character is saturated in blood and dust. The blood starts to represent something different. By the epic final scene, the outpouring of blood is almost welcome.
The horror-thriller follows a young woman named Nida (Radhika Apte) who finds herself under attack at a military prison. Although, before she even arrived at the prison, she was under attack. In Ghoul's semi-futuristic landscape, all religions are considered seditious. The Indian government is actively capturing citizens who dare to exercise their religious beliefs and Nida happens to be actively religious. Her father, a professor, is actively teaching his students to question the government's rules. The series opens with soldiers searching his car for books — potential religious teachings that could lead his students astray.
For most of the series, this is just the draping. Apte's Nida (her father calls her Nidu) is an anxious rule-follower. She believes her father is seditious; she's angry at him when he does break the government's rules. She's good at her job, and she's deferential to her new boss, a captain with a pernicious whiskey habit. Through Nida's eyes, the world is already pretty horrible, and religion is only going to make things worse. She seems trustworthy, even as she stares wide-eyed at her new digs. (They're gross. Are all military prisons dripping in condensation?) This shifts only after the ghoul arrives.
The ghoul is key. By the name of the series, the ghoul would seem to be the antagonist. But it's just a tool. The "ghoul" in this case refers to a figure in Arabian mythology that can shape shift. The symbol carved into the man in the opening scene is the ghoul's trademark: the mark of a donkey's hooves. The character has been slightly altered here. The ghoul here is a friend — someone you call when you really, really need help. When the ghoul, who arrives in the form of supposed terrorist Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj), first meets Nida, it calls her "Nidu." There's your clue: the ghoul knows Nida's nickname, something only her father knows. The ghoul is her father's friend, and he's not there for Nida. Once this realization is made, Ghoul becomes a lot less scary and lot more epic.
Ghoul spares very few bodies, leaving most of Nida's co-workers on the floor, whether by their own machinations (some of them kill each other, which is part of the ghoul's task) or by some other intervention. At the eleventh hour — the final half of the last episode — Nida rights her course, realizing that her father was right. The government is corrupt, and no one should be tortured, ever. (Did I mention there's a lot of torture in this prison? This prison is awful.) Her father, she realizes, didn't survive the very prison where she works. He died there, thanks to vicious interrogation techniques, alongside dozens of other prisoners.
"Dad was right," a dirt-soaked Nida wails. "His fight was against this dark truth. Which has now become an epidemic in the search of patriotism." Nida revolts, killing her captain and escaping from the prison — right into the arms of more soldiers. Thus, the terror of this government's regime continues.
How does one fight this epidemic? With a ghoul. What does a ghoul require? A blood sacrifice. The final shot of Ghoul is Nida's last stand. Post-ghoul-disaster, she's taking the path of her father. She's in prison, and she's decided she will no longer be the docile doe-eyed soldier from episode 1. Blood pours from her mouth as she activates yet another ghoul.
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