Bhoothakaalam (2022), currently streaming on SonyLiv, sees Rahul Sadasivan narrate a touching portrait of estrangement between a mother and a son set against the horror genre. To his credit, the filmmaker mixes the human and horror elements effectively enough to capture an atmosphere of fear and dread making for engaging viewing.
In Bhoothakaalam, Asha (Revathy) is a widow, who works as a kindergarten teacher She suffers from clinical depression and the recent death of her mother has only heightened her anxiety. Her son, Vinu (Shane Nigam), is a B Pharm graduate who has unsucessfully been hunting for a job in his hometown for quite some time. To make things worse, he shares a troubled relationship with his mother. Morever, his wayward lifestyle also affects his relationship with his girlfriend, Priya (Athira Patel). Soon, paranormal activities start happening within the inner confines of the house. Vinu is the first one to witness abnormal movements of objects. However, he is is rebuffed by his family members who consider it to be a side-effect of his excessive alcohol consumption. But then Asha, too, begins to experience inexplicable and mysterious occurrences within the house…
Bhoothakaalam takes its time to get into high gear. The horror elements are practically absent for the first three quarters if an hour as Sadasivan focuses on the inter-character dynamics setting up what is to follow. During this period, the filmmaker depicts various ordinary events in the life of the principal characters so that the viewers can empathize with their plight and try to understand their perplexed state of emotions. Scenes such as Asha hugging the clothes of her deceased mother and crying profusely while the camera tracks away to show Vinu finishing his dinner at the dining table indicate the huge distance that has grown between the mother and son over the years. The house itself serves as a metaphor for their distressed relationship where they can part ways nor can they make peace with one another.
The final fifteen minutes or so of the film, wherein the filmmaker uses every creative tool in his arsenal, generate a heart thumping pulsating feeling of suspense and panic. Here Sadasivan proves that one doesn’t always have to rely on extensive VFX or elaborate make-up to keep viewers on the edge. The sequence is so frightfully intense that it deserves to be experienced within the dark surroundings and aural space of a theater.
That said, certain scenes appear to ramble on without contributing much to the plot. The romantic relationship between Vinu and Priya appears more like a filler or a ‘necessary evil’ as it does little to move the story forward. The romantic song sequence as well as Vinu getting into a dancing spree while intoxicated are ineptly executed distractions.
Looking at the performances, Revathy beautifully brings out all the nuances of a woman coping with her depression while attuning to the temperamental behavior of her son and struggling simultaneously to be a competent teacher. She proves yet again she is one of the finest actresses in the country, in total control of her craft. Shane Nigam brings vitality in his performance as a distressed young man but lacks that element of sophistication that the role demands. Saiju Kurup adds sensitivity and consistency to his character as Vinu’s counsellor. Athira Patel as Vinu’s love interest is lively but her role suffers from its sketchy characterization. The rest of the cast does a commendable job.
The cinematography (Shehnad Jalal) effectively shifts between lifeless and flat lighting of the house to accentuate the drabness in the lives of the protagonist at one end and a dramatic interplay of light and shadow creating a disturbing, unsettling mood at the other. The sound design by Vicky and Kishan judiciously keeps the balance between the aura of silence and the eerie background music of the film. In fact, Gopi Sundar’s background score elevates the shock values and scare quotients within the narrative on a purely visceral level. Shafique Mohamed Ali maintains the pacing of the film with a slow and measured approach thereby setting the tone for an extreme sense of isolation, abandonment and the impending fear of living in a confined haunted space.
Overall, Bhoothakaalam exhibits an honest mix of creativity, imagination and style. There is much subtlety and sensitivity in Sadasivan’s cinematic craft and to his credit, it makes one curious to see what he does next.
Malayalam, Horror, Drama, Color