2021 had been a stellar year for Malayalam Cinema. During the pandemic and with the upward trend of various OTTs, Malayalam films finally were discovered so much so that they soon became the flag bearer for Indian Films. As Bollywood started its spiral journey downwards, fresh new content served through some amazing storytelling techniques from the Malayalam film industry were widely accepted. The real deal for the industry begins now whether they have films which can sustain. With a stunning lineup, the expectations have gone up ten fold now. So to begin the new year 2022, the Malayalam Film Industry has thrown in a challenge by tapping a genre which is a bit tricky and can be typecast. And with that I have finished watching the new Malayalam horror film Bhoothakaalam on SonyLiv. So this was perhaps an acid test straight up from an industry who just loves challenges. So then is Bhoothakaalam worth your time, stay tuned.
Story & Screenplay
Bhoothakaalam follows the story of a clinically depressed mother and her equally depressed son who begin to notice strange occurances following a death in the family. Soon the lines of reality get blurred or do they? The story is a balancing act between being a psychological thriller and being a horror. This is not your standard horror film that follows a fixed template. It is a grim study of people suffering from clinical depression that makes this tale quite complex and absorbing. The screenplay is a slow burner and extremely layered. Very early on in the film we are told about the relationship between the mother and her son. The estranged cold vibes are very evident that sets the tone for the rest of the film. The buildup continues as the death in the family further pushes both the two protagonists into depression. The world around them is a stark difference from what their world is at their own house. The lack of communication is quite evident here.
The screenplay builds on a lot of atmospherics that add a layer of intrigue to the drama. Not only is the horror element subtle in the first half but it never really goes overboard. With the introduction of another character, there is a further twist in the tale that stays away from the drama being predictable. About two-thirds of the film revolves around the mental state of the two protagonists and the last one third one features the horror element. This includes a terrifyingly brilliant final act that sends shivers down your spine. The writing doesn’t fall prey to the backstory of the spirit(or anything around that). Instead the focus stays completely on the current scenario that ends brilliantly on a high. A brilliantly textured and absorbing screenplay!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are subtle and poignant and reflect the mental health of the characters, particularly the two protagonists extremely well. The music is quite good with a haunting BGM that keeps you invested throughout. The cinematography is exceptional where instead of relying on creaking doors or long shots, it focuses on shadows that definitely adds to the texture of the scene making it even more terrifying. And some of the frames are just so beautiful. This includes an opening shot that did send a shiver down my spine. Director Rahul Sadasivan had a tall task at had of balancing the psychological element and the horror element(like in the 2014 film Babadook) and he does a splendid job here. He maintains a grip on the audience throughout and provides a very immersive movie watching experience.
The performances are exceptional here. Saiju Kurup as George is outstanding as the psychiatrist who is quite different from the ones shown in other films. His vulnerability comes out beautifully. Athira Patel as Priya looks pretty and definitely makes her presence felt. But the film belongs to the mother and son duo of Revathi and Shane Nigam. Revathi effectively pulls off a complex role of a clinically depressed person. Her subtle nuances just add a lot of texture to her character. And her range of expressions are amazing to watch including the ones in a heartbreaking emotional scene towards the end. Shane Nigam(I remember him from Kumbalangi Nights) as Vinu is simply brilliant here. Shifting gears in his role would not have been easy especially towards the end and he delivers a memorable performance. Both of them pull of extremely complex characters effortlessly.
Bhoothakaalam is an absorbing tale which is terrifyingly brilliant. The Malayalam Film Industry has kick started 2022 on a high by passing a massive acid test. Watch out for them this year too! Available on SonyLiv and Highly Recommended.