Director: Mathukkutty Xavier
Cast: Anna Ben, Lal, Noble Babu Thomas
Helen, directed by Mathukkutty Xavier, is a survival thriller, for the most part. A young woman employed at a fast-food shop is trapped in its cold storage freezer room, one night. When the film isn’t watching her go through different stages of horror and move closer to the edge of life, Helen looks at the many lives she touched, as a daughter, a lover, a kind neighbour or as an acquaintance. The story-telling is seamless and gripping.
Certainly, Helen must not have been an easy film to make. The film is largely shouldered by its characters – their everyday conversations and minor conflicts, and eventually, the unusual situation the protagonist goes through in the latter half of the film. These are law-abiding, lower middle-class people, who don’t want to rebel or plunge into adventures, unless they’re forced to.
Nevertheless, the warm humanism in Xavier’s approach turns them into interesting subjects the audience can thoroughly sympathise with. Helen (Anna Ben), a 25-year-old nurse, is preparing to migrate to Canada. She shares a close bond with her widower father Paul (Lal), although she has a secret that she keeps from him – Azhar (Noble Babu Thomas), her lover.
The writing lets on details about Helen slowly, without being loudly expository. There are affecting little scenes where she admonishes her father for smoking, helps an elderly neighbour take her daily insulin shot, or where she laughs nervously for making mistakes while practising her English. She is effortlessly kind, and has a warm smile. Through the course of the film, we learn about the other side of her personality – resilience and an incredible will to live.
Tension in the narrative escalates subtly, at an interesting pace. You don’t realise the gravity of the situation until a small drop of blood oozes out of her nose, or when all her efforts to turn off the fan inside the freezer end in vain. Xavier structures the latter half of the film like an edgy treasure hunt, dropping minute clues that the search party looking for her pick up one by one.
Xavier fleshes out the sub-characters efficiently to make political and social commentaries. The women in the film have to deal with passive-aggressive misogyny from family members, employers and even strangers on the road. The manager of the fast-food centre uses his employees as a punching bag to vent his frustrations about his personal life. A vile, egoistic policeman (Aju Varghese) becomes a stand-in for many things wrong with our system. At one point, Paul has to choose between his ego and his love for his little girl, and let go of his biases.
Anna Ben, who made her debut through Kumbalangi Nights this year, proves that she is a remarkable talent. She is most natural on screen, underplaying Helen’s effervescent persona in the first half and her desperation to stay alive in the second half. An odd sense of relief flashes on her face when she realises that the mice in the freezer room might be her friend. Anna portrays Helen’s emotional and mental breakdown sensitively, displaying finesse and maturity.
Helen is an interesting, albeit patchy, critique of capitalism and the fast-food industry where human beings are treated like machines. The KFC-like eatery here, takes the shape of a dystopian space that could trap Helen forever. The film ends on a note that places humanity over everything else. When she finds a lighter in her bag, one of the first things that she burns for some heat is her Canadian visa application document. What gets her out of the room is an unassuming act of kindness she used to do everyday. Helen concludes rather beautifully that paying attention to people is all that the world needs to do at the moment, and maybe it’s okay to choose home over ambitions.
This review is a Silverscreen.in original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.