Cold Case is a film that needed to chill a little. It's a police procedural that begins with the discovery of a human skull, but it's also a haunted house thriller about both broken alliances and spooky appliances. The film punches high and it wants to be taken seriously as a debate between logic and the supernatural, or science and pseudoscience. But it's most enjoyable when reimagined as a pulpy crime novel you'd buy off the stands of a nameless railway station, written by nameless authors.
The film's imagery complements this hard-boiled, trashy pitch. Ice trays are infested with spiders and the big hero intro shot uses the reflection on sunglasses to show us the two skulls that demand two different types of investigations. A major crime scene uses the gap of a closed door to let our imagination run wild and a little girl's doll has one eye missing. Dismembered body parts are everywhere and there's enough blood to remind one of the elevator sequence in The Shining.
The film is also cleverly deceptive in the way that it allows us the option to choose between two protagonists and their two very different viewpoints. One on hand we get ACP Sathyajith (Prithviraj) who takes the scientific route to reach exactly the same place as Medha (Aditi Balan) who gets there using different means. So if one person uses computers and software to zero in on the missing person, the other uses an Oracle, quite literally. Cold Case uses an unsentimental approach and doesn't judge its characters. It also doesn't take a stand in this debate. While it makes the case more interesting, the same cannot be said about the characters.
Even Medha, a divorcee with a young daughter, remains only as human as the macho police officer investigating the case. They get little complexity apart from their obsessive pursuit of this case. In turn, they come off as workaholics pursuing their career instead of being perceived as living, breathing individuals who actually care for the dead person. And because they don't care for the victim, neither do we.
The writing too can feel messy in places. The red herrings, for instance, are everywhere. In some cases, it feels like great attention to detail, as when a character casually mentions the length of a person's hair. Even details like where some construction equipment is kept comes back fascinatingly to fit in with the bigger picture. But in other instances, they feel excessive like when a home minister's son is name dropped or when a sinister mother-in-law is introduced for no particular reason. A shot of an ominous-looking well doesn't fit in, nor do the unnecessarily long interactions at the police station. One of these include a tiring scene where high ranking police officers whittle down the total number of missing person cases to a reasonable amount; something you assume a junior officer would do even before he reaches the ACP. Another high ranking officer is shown to be delaying the investigation, even though you never really understand why.
There's always too much happening and everything is revealed to us using long stretches of dialogue that demand our complete attention. Also on an entertaining level, almost three quarters of the film revolves around either Satyajith or Medha walking into different places to meet with people with information on the missing person. There's no room for any lightness and certainly no room for scenes that make smaller characters anything more than information dispensers.
But it's the big reveal that disappoints the most. Just when you begin to invest in the case, you feel let down by an ending that neither shocks nor maintains the creepy atmosphere of the first half. A major character is used only for one piece of information even though the film spends a lot of time underlining their importance. Performances of the leads are purely functional and a few supporting actors have little to offer in terms of presence.
With a lot of cool ideas and concepts, in places you get to see the film its director wanted to make using his strange eye for creepy visuals. But when it takes itself too seriously, you feel the pulpy, trashy fun slowly melt away to make way for a high-concept thriller that's trying too hard to be cool.