Directors: Ranjeet Kamala Shankar and Salil V
Cast: Manju Warrier, Sunny Wayne, Srikant Murali
I identified a lot with Chathur Mukham because I used to be like Manju Warrier's Thejaswini. I used to wake up early in the morning and the first thing I would do is look at my phone and messages. That's what she does, too. The film opens with a quote by Thoreau: Men have become tools of their tools. Here, Thejaswini has become a tool of her smartphone, a scientific tool.
Even though she is the kind of person who wakes up in the morning and takes a selfie, she is not silly or vain. She's very logical; she tells her mother that she won't get married until she's financially settled. She has a business partner, Antony (Sunny Wayne) and she's not romantically interested in him at all. The point is that even a smart, sensible, and sorted woman can become possessed by her smartphone, the same way a person can be possessed by a ghost. It's this premise that's literalized in this techno-horror story by writers Abhayakumar K and Anil Kurian.
For so many of us, being without a smartphone is like being without a phantom limb. Here, literally, when Thejaswini is away from her phone, she gets a rash on her hand. This is not the kind of horror movie where you get jump scares, even though I did jump out of my chair once. You could call the film eerie and gently supernatural.
There's nothing random about it; everything is solidly written and plotted: there's a reason why the ghost exists, why the number 21 is important and why there is a mad scientist character. And science is there throughout the film. A scientist, Clement, played by a marvelous Alencier Ley Lopez, lectures that energy can never be created nor destroyed. Someone asks him: what if we die? Does our energy become a ghost and wander around? But Clement keeps his belief in science until the very end, even when Thejaswini shows him evidence that there's something supernatural happening.
Alencier Ley Lopez and Sunny Wayne are terrific but this is really Manju Warrier's film from start to finish. She plays a woman who can't let go of her phone. In the end, her phone won't let go of her. She beautifully delineates the difference between being scared and terrified, and her character plays both shades. A lot of this has to do with the writing, too, and I liked that the character gradually accepted that she may be dead in some time.
Chathur Mukham is not a long film at 2 hours and 15 minutes, but it felt like some scenes were a bit too long. One of the things about horror is that even if they're written differently, you know the basic arc. You know they're going to investigate and, at some point, discover what's happening. You also know they're going to find the root cause and figure out a way to stop it. The film feels a bit too long for that narrative.
Some people might complain that there are not enough jump scares but that didn't bother me because it's not so much a horror film as a techno-thriller. Chathur Mukham does very well what it sets out to do.