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Review Malayalam

Irul review: A stylistic film that is high on aesthetics but lacks adequate substance

Release Date: 02 Apr 2021

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Despite capable performances by Darshana Rajendran, Soubin Shahir and Fahadh Faasil, the film is let down by its wafer-thin plot.

"All great art is born out of experience," says Unni. Who Unni is, or pretends to be, becomes the key to Naseef Yusuf Izuddin's thriller. The film is an aesthete's delight, with a subtle homage to the iconic thriller Psycho (1960) thrown in. With Fahadh Faasil, Darshana Rajendran, and Soubin Shahir taking centre stage, it also has the cast to enact the dialogue-heavy plot. What it lacks though is a watertight screenplay that would raise the thriller to the next level. 

A crime novelist, Alex (Soubin), and his lawyer girlfriend, Archana (Darshana), find themselves caught outdoors on a rainy weekend getaway. Their only respite is a seemingly abandoned bungalow down the road. Unknown to them, it is occupied by a strange man who lives without any cell phones or servants and harbours a troubling interest in serial killer novels. One of these novels is Irul (darkness), written by Alex, and based on the unsolved serial murders of five women. 

This premise is thrilling. The dialogue-heavy conversation also plays out well in the scenario of a lawyer, a novelist, and a strange man conducting a post-mortem of a serial killer's psyche. Where it loses out is also in this premise. While the screenplay dillies and dallies when it comes to highlighting a true suspect, the tone, approach, and nature of the dialogues leave no doubts. 

Another problem is the balance between hiding and revealing. The background score feels like a spoiler alert for every key moment in the thriller. The script also struggles to find the right balance between scary moments. There are too many of them that pop up, leaving you a bit restless through the story. 

The redemption lies in the cast and the cinematography. Darshana and Soubin are perfect as a couple struggling to come to terms with each other. The former is quite good as the confident, independent lawyer whose obsession with work and the cellphone becomes a point of friction for Shahir's writer. Her poise and eventual unravelling translate well on the screen. Shahir is quite good as the awkward, nervous writer who seems to be living in his own nightmare. His nervous energy adds to the uncertainty of the thriller. Then there is Fahadh whose charming deceit holds everything together. The actor is quite good at concealing the high drama at the key moments, but can hardly hide the flaws in the screenplay. 

The cinematography by Jamon T John is quite stylized and lends itself to the premise. The use of light, awkward angles and constant camera movement play with the viewer's shifting focus of attention. Shot during the pandemic, the film is set in a bungalow for the majority of its running time. This makes for some glamorous production design with dingy basements, gothic sofas, bookshelves et al. 

Yet, these do not compensate for all the plotholes. In the end, the film, despite its interesting dialogue and premise, feels like a missed opportunity. 

Irul is being streamed on Netflix. 


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