Everything and everyone in Cold Case looks haunted, not the kind of horror that provokes the viewer to turn their faces away, but the one that is inviting.
Cinematographer Girish Gangadharan dresses up every frame in a buttery weave of light and shade. Editor Shameer Muhammad’s sharp, quick cuts keep the audience on their toes. But beneath the technical slickness, Cold Case is a tedious narration of a familiar story, too weak to create a lingering sense of horror.
Directed by Tanu Balak, Cold Case is the latest entrant to the expanding list of horror-thrillers that actor-producer-director Prithviraj Sukumaran has been a part of. Centred on a human skull fished out of a river by an unsuspecting villager, the film switches between two approaches to solving the murder case. The cops, led by ACP Satyajit (Prithviraj, who does a neat impression of a piece of wood), go from one forensic lab to another, looking for clues to identify the dead person. Meanwhile, Medha (Aditi Balan), a journalist and a single mother, realises that her newly-rented house is haunted by the spirit of a wronged woman. She goes in pursuit of the killer to put an end to the menace.
The film is loaded with popular horror elements — shaky camera movements, eerie music, a doll that looks chilling and a child who will not part with the doll, a salubrious house that moonlights as a theatre of horror when no one is looking, and a modishly-dressed woman who conducts spectacular séance sessions. There are cinematic clichés like a character who vehemently dismisses warnings about a supernatural presence in her house despite vital signs tossed at her day and night.
Balak, however, does not have a grip on turning the familiar into unexpected. Instead of reimagining the good-old home-invasion genre to suit the taste of an audience that has seen far too many horror films — something Vikram Kumar’s Yavarum Nalam (2009) did memorably — Balak strictly plays by the book. He doesn’t add layers to the characters and the situations they are in, but entrusts the technical team to create elaborate build-up for ordinary instances. The camera that moves stealthily through the house does not present the perspective of Medha or the child, but seeks to trick the audience into anticipating an imminent explosion of pent-up tension. Sure, once or twice, the film succeeds in sending the viewers into a state of panic but never does it get under their skin.
There is nothing in the police investigation part to write home about. The cops speak in an ornate language (“We are opening the Pandora’s Box of a mysterious crime,” says the police chief), wearingly conscious of the genre of the film. Satyajit’s interactions with his subordinates are laughably robotic. Prithviraj delivers his lines like he is reading them out from a book. The crime investigation scenes are shot like explainer videos. The forensic scientists elucidate on the fundamentals of their job to the sub-characters and the audience. Although Satyajit lavishes praises on the killer’s abilities, the murder, it turns out, was a rather plain one, devoid of any cryptic quality.
The spirit is directionless too. It has an obvious affinity for creating a scene. But the movie isn’t sure what it wants from the single mother and her child. The spirit reveals its name to the ghost-hunter but strangely refrains from divulging any information about the murderer. Aditi Balan, in her first screen appearance since the acclaimed Aruvi, is ineffective in communicating Medha’s trauma. She plays it casual, even in the scene where her house serves as the venue of the gruesome death of a friend.
Cold Case places itself above the realm of kitsch where directors like Vinayan operate, and aspires to be sophisticated in its approach to horror. But the smugly cryptic attitude of the film is easy to see through. What is a horror movie worth if none of its characters, neither the dead nor the living, is capable of terrifying the viewer and making them look over their shoulder?
The Cold Case review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.