Bhoothakalam (SonyLIV)

Starring Revathi, Shane Nigam

Directed by Rahul Sadasivan

Rating: *** ½

Not being a huge fan of the horror genre, and having remained unmoved , unscared in numerous certified shiver-givers, I was taken aback by how right Bhoothakalam gets the scares.

There is scarcely a moment that is wasted in TRYING to frighten us. The fright night at the climax creeps up on you like a silent invisible ghost inducing a kind of genuine dread you haven’t felt since Linda Blair was possessed by the Devil.

Having said so much in praise of the scares, let me also add that it’s not the horror element that impressed me the most in Bhoothakalam. It is the way the young director constructs the mother-son relationship as rapidly spiralling, out of control, spinning into a swirl that threats to swallow all mutual affection between Asha(Revathi) and her truant jobless son Vinu(Shane Nigam , who also co-produces this lean sinewy film).

There are subtle digs at the “family” making things worse between Mother and Son by constantly declaring Vinu mentally unstable or trying to play the mediator. Asha’s appointments with a psychiatrist don’t help much. A social worker(Saiju Kurup) is brought in. He doesn’t help Asha to get over her problems with her son, and adds nothing to the plot.

Sadsivan’s film works the best when indoors. Shehnad Jalal’s camera envelopes the mother and son in reams of doom. You sense there is something awfully amiss. But the aura of terror is never properly explained. I don’t know if that is good or bad. On the one hand the less the mystery is explained the more it embeds itself in the audiences’ innermost insecurities.

On the other hand , taking a cue from the ghost of implausibilities that haunt the horror genre, Bhoothakalam doesn’t tell us how the grandmother’s death at the beginning is connected with the eeriness that shrouds Shinu and Asha’s cosy-looking home , finally uniting them to fight the common enemy.

More importantly why do they live in that house when they know “something is wrong”(this is said ad nauseam)? These are questions which haunt the film far more intensely than the spirits of the dead people who mingle with the living like Manoj Shayamalan’s ghostly apparitions losing their way .All of this spectral spookiness works effectively as long as the two protagonists remain indoors.

The director and cinematographer have an uncanny sense of spatial disharmony. To cite an instance of how well the fear factor works indoors…there is a shot of Revathi moving slowly towards the source of a strange noise down narrow dimly-lit corridor in their house while her son waits for her to emerge back from the darkness. The scene lasts for just a few seconds. But those moments are killingly heartstopping.

Like a good child Bhoothakalam is at its best only when confined to the home. When Vinu takes off for a romantic song with his girlfriend(Athira Patel) or a meddlesome neighbour(Manju Pathrose) provides more information on the unexplained happenings in the house than we need, the film makes us impatient.

This is not the place for distractions. The two lead actors know it. Revathi as the grieving depressed mother never falters. Shane Nigam as her son follows right behind.