What I actually wanted to watch this was week on Netflix was the BBC One production “The Serpent” based on notorious serial killer Charles Sobhraj. But as it is a TV series and I was pressed for time, I couldn’t indulge. Moreover, Randeep Hooda’s portrayal of Shobraj in the 2015 film “Main Aur Charles” has spoilt me for any other impersonations of the world-famous criminal.
So in my search for what’s new this week, I stumbled upon Irul (“Darkness”), an Indian Malayalam-language mystery thriller. In its trailer, the film gave out a dark, gothic vibe befitting its name. But the movie itself turned out be a sloppily written whodunit that tells you who’s done it even before the climax and then you don’t know why you’re watching the movie anymore. Still, we recommend you give “Irul” around 90 minutes of your time because some elements in it definitely deserve attention.
Irul features only three characters in its entire length. Alex Parayil (Soubin Shahir), a writer with an unbalanced temperament takes his workaholic lawyer girlfriend Archana Pillai (Darshana Rajendran) on a weekend retreat. They are driving to a ‘mystery’ destination on a rainy night when their car breaks down in a deserted place. Not carrying mobile phones as part of their tech-detox plans, the couple is forced to take refuge in the first house they see.
In the house, they are welcomed by its eccentric owner Unni (Fahadh Faasil). He tells the couple he never carries a mobile phone and the house’s landline is broken due to rain. Unni also offers Alex and Archana to stay overnight, which the couple agree to. Then, later in the night, when the trio sit down for a conversation, Unni starts talking about Alex’s novel “Irul” and accuses him of being the serial killer, the book’s protagonist. Alex refutes the claim and instead accuses Unni of being a thief and murderer. As the argument gets heated, both men furnish ‘evidences’ to show the other as the killer while Archana has to make a potentially life-threatening decision.
Writer Sunil Yadav sets up a perfect premise for a harrowing crime thriller. But in due course, the film dips in mysteriousness and thrill. There are certain moments that try to make a breakthrough, but debut director Naseef Yusuf Izuddin fails to make the best of them. The film fails to ignite the emotions its genre is supposed to.
But even as writing and direction are on the sloppier side, acting and cinematography of Irul maintain high watchability factor. All three actors, the only three actors actually, are brilliant in their respective roles. Male actors Fahadh Faasil and Soubin Shahir—who are known for their method acting and versatility in the Malayalam movie industry—take it upon themselves to save the film from disaster. In their respective roles as Unni and Alex, both potential serial killers, the actors are convincing enough to confuse the audience. There are multiple long shots in the film, one so long that the film appears like a theatrical production. Not many can pull off long shots as do the actors in Irul.
They justify the burden of expectations placed on them. But it’s Jomon T. John’s cinematography that shines through the brightest, making Irul a visually-compelling treat. The film has a dark tone with most of its proceedings happening inside a dimly-lit house. Jomon capitalizes on the opportunity to use some of the most unusual POVs, mirrors and shadows to create sinister visual effects. The lighting and camerawork put together emulate a neo-noir style which seems to be inspired a lot by Alfred Hitchcock’s milestone setting classic “Psycho” (1960).
Who should watch it?
Irul is a film made for crime, mystery, and thriller movie fans. Watching it, you will identify certain similarities with other movies of the genre you’ve watched and will probably also guess the suspense and the ending. But the acting and cinematography will most definitely make your time enjoyable.
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Crime, thriller
Actors: Fahadh Faasil and Soubin Shahir, Darshana Rajendran
Director: Naseef Yusuf Izuddin
Run time: 1hr 31mins