Situational whodunnits are my thing. There’s something obsessively alluring about an ambience of torrential rain, a creepy mansion in a forest, a dead body and 3 people stuck together trying to solve and save themselves from a heinous crime. An intrinsic love of Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock and their works that shaped my life perhaps! That’s exactly who and what director Naseer Yusuf Izuddin seems to be inspired by as he attempts to give us his take on a classic suspense thriller.
Alex, played by Soubin Shahir is a writer who has just published his first crime novel titled Irul. His girlfriend, Archana, played by Darshana Rajendran, is a successful lawyer who is married to her job and, by default, her cell phone. The couple, hoping to spend some quality time together away from the chaos of work, decide to free themselves from their gadgets and plan a quiet weekend sojourn with Alex promising Archana a pleasant surprise at the end. As their car breaks down in the middle of a secluded forest, the couple proceed towards the only house they can see to ask for help. But the mysterious flashy-robe-clad owner of this ostentatious mansion (Fahadh Faasil) seems to be hiding a whole lot of secrets. When the body of a young woman is discovered in the basement with eerie similarities to the crimes imagined by Alex in his novel, the unlikely threesome are thrown together into a web of deadly lies, deceit and a fight for survival.
Irul is a narrative that could have worked seamlessly on many levels. While the germ of the idea is evidently exciting, the film unfortunately does not develop into a fully rounded plot with a fitting culmination. And that’s a pity for a start that promises to incorporate all the elements of the quintessential crime thriller, with a mouth-watering cast of talented actors who are short-changed by the clunky loophole-filled writing. The director sets up intriguing situations but somehow never pushes through to tie those threads in a full circle. As a result, the film serves up rather convenient explanations to establish the links between the protagonists that even amateur crime buffs would see through. We are also privy to a bunch of vague and pretentious dialogues that only serve to obscure rather than illuminate. The characters have seemingly intellectual discussions that that are rather vacuous in content. It’s almost as if these conversations are manufactured simply to prove that talking in circles is a cool thing, when it clearly isn’t. By the end, it’s not about how easily I had figured out what happened, but rather how unconvincingly I’d got there – and as a crime lover, it left me feeling dissatisfied.
The biggest flaw, though, is the overdependence on the stylistic elements of a traditional whodunnit, while ignoring the plot. In attempting to create an ominous atmosphere, the camera angles swerve rather disturbingly during many shots, almost as if to distract from the unconvincing progress of the plot. There are endless montages of artefacts bathed in eerie light, slow-motion captures and flamboyant set pieces that may be aesthetically created to please the eye but do not enhance or uplift the narrative at all. Fahadh Faasil is a dependable actor who generally delivers, and he does here. But his role feels like a rehash of many characters that he’s played before and offers him nothing new to sink his teeth into. His dichotomies in this film aren’t the stuff of genius for an actor like him. Darshana Rajendran, who impressed in last year’s avantgarde hit C U Soon, does a solid job. It is a clever touch by the director to use her character, “the lawyer”, to make judgements, but her development doesn’t quite cut it. It is Soubin Shahir who looks to be most out of his element here. For a quirky actor who has done a fair share of different roles in various genres, his depiction of Alex is one-dimensional. It is a departure from his usual roles and the actor clearly seems uneasy and fails to modulate his crescendos with some subtleties.
Irul could have been so much more with a better vision in screenplay and plot development. Unfortunately, true to its name (‘irul’ means darkness), the viewers for the most part are left hanging in the dark, groping for answers that are never fully revealed.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.