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Review Malayalam

The Priest review: Understated Mammootty elevates this derivative supernatural mystery film

Release Date: 11 Mar 2021 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 27min

Cinestaan Rating

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Suyog Zore

Unfortunately, the thriller by first-time director Jofin T Chacko falls prey to the clichés of the genre.

Barring exceptions like Munnariyippu (2014), Unda (2018) and Peranbu (2019), three-time National award-winning actor Mammootty has mostly been doing run-of-the-mill masala entertainers that suit his superstar status but don't do justice to his capabilities. Meanwhile, his contemporary and long-time rival Mohanlal has managed to walk the tightrope more successfully by doing both potboilers and content-rich films.

Mammootty finally decided to shed his superstar image for Jofin T Chacko's supernatural mystery movie The Priest (2021). The film sees the artiste essaying the title role of Father Carmen Benedict who exhibits all the traits of a smart sleuth. He is indubitably modelled on Sherlock Holmes. And in true Holmesian style, he helps the local police, led by deputy superintendent Shekhar (Sivadas Kannur), crack difficult cases.

While solving one such case, where a series of suicides occurs in a family, Fr Benedict runs into an orphan, Ameya Gabriel (Monica), and instantly feels something is not right about the 11-year-old. Ameya is a quiet kid who spends most of her time alone until a new teacher, Jessie (Nikhila Vimal), arrives at the school.

Jessie's arrival brings about a huge change in Ameya's behaviour. She starts to take interest in her studies and befriends her classmates. What makes this taciturn and occasionally aggressive child, who had no friends at school or the orphanage, warm up to a strange woman?

Later, inexplicable things start to happen when Jessie visits her ancestral home while on holiday with Ameya.

The screenplay by Jofin and Shyam Menon takes its own sweet time to get things going. The film starts with the series of deaths by suicide within a family in mysterious circumstances. Fr Benedict is asked to look into the case by a mysterious woman. Just when you think this is the case the movie is all about, the cleric finds the culprits and the case is closed and you are left wondering what was the point of dedicating 45 minutes to something that has nothing to do with the main plot.

We remain confused throughout the film when it comes to the suicides and how they are related to Ameya’s condition. The only explanation one can think of is that the writers probably didn't know how to stretch the main plot to over two hours and hence came up with this completely irrelevant subplot.

The main plot of the film and the way it is shot feel derivative. If you are a fan of horror cinema, you might even recognize a few inspirations.

Although there is nothing to rave about Jofin's direction, he should be praised for not falling back on Mammootty's superstar image and for focusing on the story at hand. In fact, there is a good chunk of 15 or 20 minutes when Mammootty doesn't appear on the screen even once.

Mammootty's Fr Benedict is shown as a calm and composed man who doesn't lose his cool even when the stakes are raised. The veteran plays him with restraint. There is no hero moment to pander to his fans and it is refreshing to see him play this kind of character after his many 'massy' roles. Although there is not much depth to the character of the priest, Mammootty makes up for it with his screen presence.

Monica also delivers a solid performance except for a few occasions when she goes a little overboard, but the blame for that must lie with the director than the child artiste.

There is an extended cameo by Malayalam star Manju Warrier, but her poorly written character doesn't allow her to leave any significant impact on the film.

The Priest scores high marks in the technical department, with the production design striking a chord. At 2 hours 25 minutes, the film is lengthy and feels stretched in the middle section. Overall, The Priest is an underwhelming supernatural thriller that is elevated by Mammootty's understated performance.

The Priest is being streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

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