‘Bhoothakalam’ movie review: Getting the scares right in effortless fashion

Revathy and Shane Nigam, both of whom have been missing from screens for a while, carry the film all through

Holding back the core, while leaving us enough strands to hold on to, is an art. But holding everything back in a script has its perils, especially when you don’t have enough to take the viewer by surprise later on. Bhoothakalam shows us how to get it right, in quite an understated, effortless fashion.

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If one starts watching the film without reading or hearing anything about it, the initial scenes gives one the sense of it being a drama on the strained relationship between Asha (Revathy) and her son Vinu (Shane Nigam), both of whom are struggling with mental health issues. Asha works at a school, which is the only source of income for the family, that also includes her bed-ridden mother. Vinu, a pharmacy graduate, is struggling to find a job. The tension and rift between him and his mother is further compounded by her reluctance to let him move out of the city in search of better opportunities.

The situation further exacerbates their frayed mental states. It is this foundation on which filmmaker Rahul Sadasivan starts building the horror part of the movie, even as the unsuspecting audience is slowly pulled into some spine-chilling sequences. But where the script — written by Sreekumar Shreyas along with the director — succeeds in, is in injecting a sense of skepticism into the audience about what is going on-screen.

Bhoothakalam

  • Director: Rahul Sadasivan
  • Cast: Shane Nigam, Revathy

When we first see Vinu getting trapped inside a room, we assume it could be due to his mental state. Later, when a mental health counsellor (Saiju Kurup) visits their house, and their neighbour tells him, “Something is wrong with that house,” we tend to see it as a mere nod to usual horror movie tropes, rather than take that comment seriously.

Even when things escalate later on, for sometime we assume it could be one of those attempts to lead us the wrong way. The effectiveness of the script lies in managing to maintain this feeling in us almost till the end.

The horror part is almost incidental to the narrative, which places mental health and the need for mutual understanding at its centre. In fact, Vinu’s problems are worsened by the inability of those around him to believe his claims, many of which seem far-fetched and often understood as a product of his unstable mind.

Revathy and Shane Nigam, both of whom have been missing from the screens for a while, carry the film all through. Shehnad Jalal’s unhurried camera work, especially inside the claustrophobia-inducing rooms, play a huge role in how we feel what we feel.

Bhoothakalam is a textbook in how to scare the audience with minimal use of jump scares techniques. By the end, one is left wondering whether the film’s title is referring to the past or to ghosts.

Bhoothakalam is currently streaming on SonyLIV

 

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