Cast: Arulnithi, Shraddha Srinath
Director: Bharath Neelakandan
What if you find yourself tied to a chair with packaging tape, in a house you barely recognise? That’s the plight that befalls Mathi (Arulnithi) at the beginning of K-13, written and directed by first-timer Barath Neelakantan. Flashback a bit, and we learn that Mathi has worked as an assistant director, and he now wants to make his own movie. He reveals this to Malar (Shraddha Srinath), who he meets in a nightclub. She’s a writer, too—and the film sneaks in a nod to another thriller about a writer, The Shining. But you’d be wrong if you think K-13 is animated by the spirit of Stephen King. Rather, it plays out like the love child of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and François Ozon’s Swimming Pool. A man trapped in a room, using a keyhole to spy on neighbours. Murder. A twisty climax that toys with us. This is solid material for a movie.
Say what you will about Arulnithi’s ability to emote (and K-13 needs way too much emoting for a performer of his limited range), the man certainly has an eye for interesting scripts. The director makes Mathi an introvert, a loner, and he gives Malar a line about loneliness. Are they a match made in heaven? Or is Mathi just projecting? Or is there something else, something that goes down to the very root of the writing process? To what extent will a writer go for a good story? I’m not telling, but pay attention to the title of Malar’s novel: Kaatchi Pizhai. What you see isn’t what you get. K-13 is one of those movies where the reviewer is forced to play games with the reader the way the director plays with the audience. To reveal even one aspect (say, the identity of the corpse Mathi stumbles upon) is a disservice to the viewing experience.
So why does the film remain at an arm’s distance? It’s the writing. The awkward, mood-killing stretch with Yogi Babu is easily forgiven, but the first half seems to consist almost entirely of Mathi wiping his prints from various surfaces in the house. Because nothing else registers. We never feel the tension Mathi must surely be feeling. The red herrings are badly worked in, and a three-way conversation that tells us something about Malar needed much more time to breathe. There’s some flamboyant filmmaking, sure. (From one angle, Malar’s gold-coloured heels look like she needed an escalator to climb into them.) But in the basic staging, you can repeatedly sense the distance between the effect the director was going for and what he ended up with. The sheer rush of events in the second half keeps things interesting, but the juiciness of the premise promised a lot more.