It’s a tough task to conceive a horror film without relying upon the key feature of a scary, disfigured ghost accompanied by an eerie background score and fast edit cuts. Ram Gopal Varma tried to explore the genre subtly in his Raat (1992), which he later remade as a blown-up version Bhoot (2003).
However, Bhoothakaalam moves one step further as a psychological, supernatural film made with a ‘holding back’ approach. Entirely relying upon its two superlative lead performances, the film conveys the scares, staying away from the usual loud screaming — a rarity in this particular genre.
It opens calmly, focusing on a middle-aged woman, her young son, and a bed-ridden grandmother with shining white hair. The effortless calmness continues throughout the film. Both the mother and son are suffering from anxiety and depression disorder, and the son is fed up with taking care of the old lady (changing her diapers) four to five times a day. The unusual setting starts giving some hints right from the opening sequences and one guesses, specifically targeting the son.
Soon the grandmother dies, the suspicion continues, but the first half doesn’t become any typical horror film, mutedly delivering the scares, presenting it as a thoughtful psychological thriller. The narrative still works because of its skilful writing and execution, with no screechy background score or loud sounds. Yes, the most expected elements of effective jump scares, self-closing doors, moving furniture and unexplainable sounds appear in the second half of the film. Yet it doesn’t fall back to anything routine, carefully maintaining the dark, suspicious tone focusing on just two lead characters on the screen.
Written and directed by Rahul Sadasivan, Bhoothakaalam is a character-driven film getting brilliant support from Revathy and Shane Nigam — as its two protagonists. Interestingly, Revathy was also the lead in RGV’s Raat, and the extremely talented actress simply excels in a much more complex role in 2022 — three decades post the 90s classic. Shane beautifully supports her as the unsure, troubling son and the film largely relies upon their impactful expressions silently dealing with the paranormal activities.
Scoring in its realistic locations, simplistic interiors, striking camera movements, and apt background score, Bhoothakaalam has the limitation of an open ending that might not be appreciated by many. Rahul keeps the viewers guessing in the entire film and leaves them in the same state with many possible interpretations and conclusions. On the other hand, it also might appear to be a non-happening kind of film for the ones expecting their routine dose of horror. Overall, though the culmination could have been better, Bhoothakaalam certainly deserves to be seen for its conception, storytelling, and performances, giving it a fair chance.
Title: Bhoothakaalam (Malayalam)
Cast: Revathy, Shane Nigam, Saiju Kurup
Director: Rahul Sadasivan
Rating: 3.5 stars