Director: Naseef Yusuf Izuddin
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Dharshana Rajendran, Soubin Shahir
Irul, after C U Soon and Love, is another lovechild born to restless filmmakers and the boredom of lockdown. Predominately set within the confines of a flashy mansion (the art department working overtime), it took five people to write Irul which revolves around three characters. The setup is a flashy update on any one of the Ramsay movies from the 90's. A young couple go away for a weekend, the car breaks down in the rain and there's a big house right there for them to try their luck at surviving the night.
The couple, just three months into their relationship, appear to be interesting. Alex (Soubin in a terrible miscast role) is a crime novelist who has just completed his first book, also titled Irul (darkness). His girlfriend Archana is a busy lawyer who hardly has time to be with Alex, even when they're on a date. They've set one rule for this weekend getaway. They both agree to leave their mobile phones behind and Alex even promises Archana that he has a surprise waiting for her.
The tone in ominous and there's hardly any cheer in Irul's build-up to this point. You know what's going to happen but the film takes forever to get there. So when Fahadh opens the door in a flashy dressing gown with a glass of whiskey, you're expecting things to start moving forward.
And it does. We're quickly ushered into the living room of this mansion and we become participants of a new game with its own set of rules. The man of this house, speaking in perfect Malayalam, puts forward loaded questions to his new guests. "Isn't there a difference between truth and lies?", forms one of them. Archana's answer: "There is. One can say the whole truth. But not a complete lie. There is some truth in every lie."
It's a fancy line, meant to suddenly make the film appear profound. But it goes a step further. It asks the lawyer to be the judge between this one big truth and one big lie. Through Archana, we too get to take this seat to decide who among the two men stands for truth.
The design of Irul is clever. A 'judge' has to be depend on her judgement to stay alive. Within the cliches of a slasher film we also get a courtroom drama. Positions are taken, arguments made and defences are exchanged. Along with Archana, we struggle to stick to our judgements, changing loyalties with every argument. Jomon T John's camera adds to this disorientation with his long single takes spinning around the room, akin to our thoughts at this point.
Even the conceit is clever. Can you pitch two great actors against each other by asking the audience to pick who is more convincing? Fahadh, though, gets a confusing character that plays on the shades of his own characters.
But its a different film that you're finally watching. At certain points, I wanted to ask myself if the film was playing a joke on us. His character is lowkey hilarious when he tries to speak strictly in Malayalam. The put-on is obvious and his overt rigidity (and the opposite later on) works better as dark humour rather than all the iruttu the movie is going for. It's the much the same with Alex. Soubin has seldom looked so out of place in a movie. His explosions appear subdued and there's an awkwardness to him in the opening portions of this debate when everything is dialogue driven.
Yet what's most disappointing is the lack of surprises. Given the setting, there's a tendency to expect the film to pull the rug from right under you with clever twists and an explanation that finally makes sense. But in Irul, the layers feel forced and the thrills remain products of the making and never the writing. With advertisement-like showy visuals and funny wardrobe choices, Irul is a huge underutilisation of talent.