Pizza II: Villa begins with a flickering light bulb and, a little distance away, a paranormal scientist holding up a tuning fork — he’s looking for… something. Later, in an interview, he reveals that he has never been afraid, and that he is waiting for the day he will experience fear. We think that this man’s wish will come true, that he will regret these words because of the terrifying situation he will find himself in — but that never happens. Or maybe it happens and we don’t register it because the performances in this film don’t add up.

Elsewhere, the “clues” (like the decomposing carcass of a dog) don’t add up — we wait for the why behind these happenings, and there are no satisfactory answers. But as a painting teacher instructs his students, early on, the most important thing in an art form is the ambience. Those could be the director Deepan Chakravarthy’s words. What Pizza II: Villa lacks in other departments, it makes up for with mood.

Unlike its in-name-only predecessor, Pizza II: Villa isn’t about a hoax. It isn’t a horror movie either — at least, not in the conventional sense of a narrative that aims to make you jump out of your seat and turn the lights on at night. The film isn’t without the genre’s trusted (and if you stop to think about it, stupid) tropes. Someone in a huge mansion where things are going bump in the night will continue to stay on, instead of moving somewhere safer, and when he finds a room with something terrifying inside, he will continue to investigate these horrors.

But the director is after something more elegant, more muted. He doesn’t want so much to scare us as infuse in us a sustained sense of dread. The background score isn’t silence-screams-silence-screams, but long and seemingly unvarying notes and chords that swell, occasionally, into crescendos. The effect is eerie, not scary. Pizza II: Villa, then, is a horror movie for those who don’t particularly care for horror movies.

The story is something that Stephen King might have dreamt up. A struggling crime-novel writer (Ashok Selvan) inherits a villa, and when he moves in his life changes. But even as he revels in the turnaround (a publishing contract; an award), he senses that malevolent forces may be behind it all. (Or maybe the spirit of Kate Mosse is behind it all. One of the author’s bestsellers is seen on a tabletop, and as in that book, there’s a creepy Frenchman here.)

An unexpected — and welcome — side-effect of these happenings is that the protagonist is never allowed to become a hero. He is in over his head — as we discover through a tragic murder, forewarned isn’t always forearmed. Evil always has the upper hand. The ending, thus, is inevitable. We sit up expecting a twist, revealed with a flourish, but the understated nature of what actually happens is perhaps the bigger twist. With the tease of a sequel, we may be witnessing a quality franchise in the making.

Genre: Horror-thriller

Director: Deepan Chakravarthy

Cast: Ashok Selvan, Sanchita Shetty, Nasser

Storyline: A writer moves into a mansion and things begin to go bump in the night…

Bottomline: An elegantly made thriller.