What genre could you best fit Bhoothakaalam in? If it was up to me, I would call it a psychological horror/thriller drama. The film is mostly about the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her son, Asha and Vinu, but it is also about ghosts, literally and metaphorically.
The director is very particular in giving subtle hints. The opening scene gives an eerie vibe. However, it turns out to be Vinu's grandmother waking up in the middle of the night because of sleeplessness. While this shot could have been taken in different ways, the director sticks to a static framing and slow-paced beginning, and that gets you into the film's mood.
The film, as a whole, doesn't reveal much. It moves ahead showing us the life of Vinu and his mother, focusing on their day-to-day activities. It becomes clear that Vinu and his mom Asha are not on good terms. Asha is a clinically depressed woman and Revathi nails the character. With every expression, she reveals the huge pressure of emotions and the past burden that she has been carrying. Whenever the camera zooms in for a close-up, it is as if her face reveals to you all her hidden struggles and pain.
Shane Nigam, as Vinu, also has a brilliant impact. Out of the many strengths of the film, a major highlight is the lead characters. The emotions that they deliver through their body language drive the storyline forward.
The cinematography and background score are also major pluses in the film's favour. There is a static frame, with actions happening at a slower pace, and then there is this eerie background score that gives us that jittery feeling. This is how several scenes are shot in the film and every time the background score rises, you shudder.
Talking about the narrative of the film, there is very minimal dialogue and detail. The film in itself is a little vague and leaves several things in ambiguity. Vinu drinks often and when he hears weird sounds and experiences strange things, there is the suggestion of hallucination. His uncle also suggests counselling for his alcoholism. Through such different suggestions, the audience is always kept in the dark. You don't know whether it is a psychological issue or a paranormal one.
The director has employed a hyper-local approach that is relatable. The happenings take place in a regular house, with a strange neighbour who keeps noting things. There are the relatives and counsellors who suggest this could all be happening in the mind, they go to the extent of planning to take Vinu to a mental hospital. This is exactly how people are habituated to react. From the characters, the settings and the narrative elements, everything is placed in a way you could relate to.
The director brings in psychological thriller and horror elements into an emotional drama that is focused on the relationship between a mother and a son. It revolves around how the duo fights their past and their fears to get along with each other. In a film that touches upon so many things, you could easily be overwhelmed and the narrative could lose depth. However, the film sticks to its basics, giving the right flow and depth that the plot needs.
So, the film stands out from other horror or psychological thrillers. From the natural setting of a house and a relatable narrative to the ghostly happenings, the film delivers everything in a unique way. While most horror films give away the horror element right from the beginning, which sometimes makes the climax horror a little underwhelming, Bhoothakaalam saves the horror for the last 20 minutes of the film, causing a shiver to run down your spine.