Actor Fahadh Faasil’s latest Malyalam movie “Irul” is an almost-engaging crime thriller that makes an okayish impact, although it’s not as good as his previous release – “CU Soon.” Helmed by Naseef Yusuf Izuddin (who worked as an assistant director in Bollywood dramas like “Kai Po Che!”, and “Happy New Year”), presents a narrative with tons of unnecessary excesses that takes us through numerous twists and turns, and some serious overacting into what turns out be quite a bewildering mystery.
The film revolves around what happens when a writer with a past, played by Soubin Shahir, and his girlfriend (Darshana Rajendran) find themselves stranded in a heavy storm (what good thriller doesn’t have a storm scene?), with no cell phones and a car that won’t start. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, With no phones, and no possible way to get help, they spot a litbungalow. They head for it. The couple are then forced to seek shelter in the house, whose occupant (Fassil) seems like a man who has something to hide!
Alex Parayil (Soubin Shahir) is a partner in a giant firm. He is rich and his debut novel, Irul, has not exactly made waves, but he hopes that it will place him among a luminary of authors. He is proud to have transformed himself into one, but his girlfriend, Archana Pillai (Darshana Rajendran), a criminal lawyer has not yet read the book. She firmly believes that buried deep inside every truth is a lie, at least a trace of it, and vice-versa. However horrific a lie may seem or sound, it is quite possible that there is an element of truth. It is on this premise that “Irul” is based.
The movie opens with Alex and Archana, who have been with each other for a mere three months, deciding to take a romantic weekend getaway – sans their computers and cell-phones.The three begin drinking and having a rather philosophical conversation about crime, criminals and criminality. Mind you, Alex has just penned a murder mystery, and Archana deals with crime at the high court day in and day out.
Soon, the power goes out (again what thriller worth its salt doesn’t have a power outage?). As the couple learnt earlier in the evening, the landline phone connection has been off, and Unni says he does not use a mobile phone. I think it’s then that an intelligent lawyer like Archana should havesmelt a rat. But things, as expected, take a darker turn, with events eerily paralleling those from Alex’s recent book serial killer thriller – Irul seeming to have taken place there. The plot however is not free of flaws. “Irul” unfolds on a single night, and I wonder how two very intelligent people like Alex and Archana are oblivious of the pitfalls that are only to be expected in a situation they find themselves in.
In the beginning, one sees the usual tropes of horror-thrillers, complete with a grand spooky mansion in a secluded area at night, a stranded couple, and a mysterious man. With that set-up, expects the script to have some delightful tricks up the sleeve to supersede our expectations. However, the writer and director effort seems to be to ensure that the viewers don’t get too much of a surprise and they do not stray too far off the tried-and-tested path.
The story initially plays out like a drama, focusing on the struggles of the protagonist, before moving into the thriller space. Wasted screen time, if you ask me. The initial portions are a bit slow as they explore the dynamics between Soubin and his lover. However, things pick up a bit post-Faasil’s entry but “Irul” never really reaches its potential.
The characters are not fleshed out properly, which makes it difficult for the audience to relate to them or the action on screen. The screenplay ends up raising more questions than it answers. None of the dots really seem to connect.
For example, the dark, dirty secret from Shahir’s past (that is hinted at) isn’t explored properly. In fact, I’m still in the dark. This is a pity as the subplot had tremendous potential. The dynamics between Faasil and Shahir too remain ambiguous.
There are two major twists in “Irul”. One of them falls flat as it becomes a bit too apparent halfway into the film. The other one (spoiler alert) involving the house, however, savages the film by keeping fans mildly engaged. Right from the get go, director Nazeef Yusuf Izuddin places the viewer in Archana’s shoes. She does not know where Alex is taking her. She has notread Alex’s book, which she learns from the conversations between him and the man at the mansion, is about a serial killer. She is also, just like the viewer, caught between the two men, both of whom tell her equally convincing stories to explain the happenings in the mysterious mansion and unsure of whom to trust.
Yet, beyond the customary jump scares, the film never really manages to send chills down your spine, even at the height of the confrontation between the two men. One standout scene is a shouting match between the three characters, which just serves to disorient the viewer, who is already, at this point, fairly confused.
Faasil manages to infuse life into a half-baked character and seems to have been the right man for this job. However, the actor does not really get enough scope to transform into “Unni,” which prevents him from flexing his acting prowess to the fullest. Shahir comes across as wooden, unable to “internalize” his character of the underdog the way Ajay Devgn did in “Drishyam.” His inability to emote with his eyes dilutes the impact of his performance. Darshana Rajendran is underutilized as her character is as one- dimensional as anything can be.
“Archana” is supposed to be a lawyer but this proves to be of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. The character needed depth to make any substantial impact. And in a film with just three characters, the accomplished performers do not really get to dazzle the audience. The background music is decent in some portions but comes across as a bit too breezy in others. Some of the dialogues are good but this proves to be a small consolation in the long run. Technically the film is above par with superb sound effects, color tone and visuals. The minor plot twist (spoiler alert) is interesting. However, overall, the story offers no suspense. With the thrill factor missing, it just flows like a plain old drama. Disappointing!
If only more attention had been paid to fleshing out a somewhat-decent script and working on the dialogues, “Irul” would not have ended up like the half-baked, half-hearted effort it is.Overall, an uninspired film, with a screenplay that may be better suited for a stage play and which tries too hard to be “an edge of the seat nail-biter” and ends up being a lukewarm affair.
“Irul” is streaming on Netflix.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters andPhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at OakGrove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.