Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Churuli (2021), currently streaming on SonyLIV, introduces the viewer to a surreal world filled up with spiteful and outlandish individuals, where behaving politely with one another is an aberration and a moral code of conduct is considered taboo. While Pellissery has, no doubt, built up quite a formidable track record as a filmmaker, unfortunately, this time round, Churuli proves to be disappointing fare.
In the film, an Assistant Sub Inspector from the crime squad, Antony (Chemban Vinod), and a Police Constable, Shajivan (Vinay Forrt), go undercover under the disguise of daily wager workers. They have been entrusted with the task of catching a criminal, Joy (Soubin Sahir), who is accused of various crimes that could get him around ten years in jail. The search of the policemen takes them to a mysterious village named Churuli after a tiring jeep ride. The moment they enter the area, they face hostility from the people of Churuli. Antony and Shajivan lie to the villagers that they have come there to dig pits in the rubber plot for Thankan Chettan (Joju George). But Thankan is not in the village because he has gone home. So, Antony and Shajivan take temporary shelter in a small toddy shop. From then onwards, both the protagonists encounter one bizarre individual (and situation) after another that puts them on the brink of losing their sanity…
Pellissery has an eye for imagination. He adorns the narrative with little details and lots of symbolic overtones. For instance, the jeep crossing a bridge made of loosely arranged logs suggests the intimidating environment of the village Antony and Shajivan are about to enter. But for all of its intellectual challenges and mighty ambitions, the film becomes an exercise in indulgence at the cost of a coherent and engaging storyline. Undoubtedly, some of the scenes individually do attempt to allure us into the film but they do not carry much significance within the larger scheme of the film’s narrative structure,. The screenplay by S Hareesh deliberately withholds information regarding the motivations of the characters as well as plays about with the causality of the plot in manner that is quite frustrating. While it could be considered as creative liberty, it does not contribute much to break the mould or create something unique and innovative. There are a few jump-scare moments in the film. But most of them appear to be staged and superficial in order to incite a sense of horror and foreboding. The climactic moment will either make some viewers marvel at its extravagant ingeniousness or some may simply scratch their heads in utter annoyance.
Performance-wise, Vinay Forrt as a distressed police officer brings much conviction to his role. Especially where he discovers the existence of his darker side that initiates a spiralling crisis of identity and individuality. Chemban Vinod also gets the viewers to empathize with his own existential conflict as he, too, finds himself trapped in an untoward situation. Joju George and Soubin Sahir in their brief appearances bring authenticity to their roles while the rest of the supporting cast performs evenly to add to the creepiness and bizarreness of the milieu.
Technically, the film is a triumph for Pellissery and his team. The cinematographer (Madhu Neelakandan) frames the characters as well as the locales with sophisticated texture and tonal work that helps to create the film’s eerie and bewitching world. The sweeping aerial shot capturing the spiral-shaped road leading to the village gives us the feeling of a true maze-like structure – the film’s title means labyrinth in English. The same attention to detail applies to Renganaath Ravee’s highly evocative sound design. Every clang, rattle, trilling and crunch can be felt deep in our bones. The editing by Deepu Joseph moves smoothly from one scene to the other with aplomb. Even the jump cuts within the film appear seamless. The background score of the film (Sreerag Saji) generates ceaseless terror, unrelenting dread and moments of escalation in equal measure. But above all, it is the spellbinding visual effects that raise the bar of the visual design and the fantastical sweep of the film.
Had there been some persuasive reasonings, Churuli could well have risen above its self-conscious philosophical musings. Sadly though, aside from a few moments of true cinematic brilliance, it falls short.
Malayalam, Drama, Thriller, Fantasy, Color