Karthik Subbaraj’s Mercury, a horror thriller, unfurls in moderated silence.
The protagonists, a bunch of youngsters, are speech and hearing impaired. The monster they have to fight, the zombie form of a man (an impressive Prabhu Deva), is speech and visually impaired. Incidentally, all of them were victims of an industrial mercury poisoning disaster. In a non-functional factory of Corporate Earth, the company that caused the disaster, the monster goes on a rampage, hunting down and killing the youngsters one by one, while the latter frantically try to figure out ways to escape him. The trick, is to stay quiet, to not even breath or make a minor faux pas. On these levels, the film bears uncanny resemblance to last year’s horror black horse, Don’t Breathe and the recent A Quiet Place.
The film is slick. Prabhu Deva’s performance as the zombie is spot on. He nails the haste, unpredictable body-language and the look of the stony-faced zombie, and easily becomes one of the best elements of the film. The film has a fantastic soundscape, designed by Kunal Ranjan and composer Santhosh Narayanan. They fill the air as the character go about communicating with each other in sign language and inaudible screams. The film articulates using silence, masterfully interspersed with sounds of a barrel tumbling down, a metallic sheet cracking, a bolt falling on to the ground, or a cellphone ringtone that inadvertently give away the hiding spot of the youngsters, alerting the monster.
The visuals are great too – the low-key lighting and skewed camera angles, backed by an excellent production design, turn an abandoned chemical factory into a ghost ground. The camera takes you through the rooms where giant rusty machines lay. The pools inside the factory, filled with dark chemical liquid, aren’t dead yet, like the monster, and evidently, they have enough venom in them to start another killing spree.
And clearly, Karthik Subbaraj has a larger message to convey. The Corporate Earth factory becomes a scary remnant of the corporate’s greedy criminal manifestations that have led to the killing and crippling of many generation of people across the world. The zombie and the youngsters, oblivious to the fact that they are inside the belly of the evil that ruined their lives, start fighting each other, rather than looking at the big picture. However, the allegories aren’t subtle or intelligent enough to surprise you.
This is part of the film’s most dire problem. It is entirely dependent on this glossy texture and the loud allegories. The writing is lethargic – characters are loosely etched out sans an identity, and the plot-line is built on implausibilities. We come to know the youngsters only as a collective, never as individuals, and the zombie has a sad backstory that brings the film to a forceful halt. The film attempts no character study. The chase is thrilling, but it isn’t powerful enough to hold the film together.
The horror elements in Mercury work marvelously on a peripheral level, but falls flat when you delve a little deeper. There is little to relish in a second watch. The chills don’t last for long. And the social commentary ends up as a rather ugly organ that juts out of the film.