The Malayalam movie Phoenix is directed by Vishnu Bharathan and stars Aju Varghese, Anoop Menon, Nilja K Baby, Abhirami Bose, Bhagath Manuel, Chandhunadh
Where can you watch Phoenix in the UAE?
As a cinematic trope in horror movies, the lonely haunted house brings an instant derisive deja vu. The thing is, what can be new in that? A couple or a family moves to a house where, unbeknownst to them, a spirit resides. It is a blood-thirsty and vengeful one and out to wreak havoc. The family has to escape its all-powering presence in the nick of time, which is usually the film’s climax.
Right off, it has to be said that it is a victory for Phoenix that travels this trope but also avoids the genre’s cliches. The debutant director Vishnu Bharathan shows it can come with a novel turn within this old, well-traversed path. A minor tweak in the ghost’s essential approach is good enough to see Phoenix through. Midhun Manuel Thomas’s screenplay has a significant role to play in shepherding the film on an even keel.
Also, the film happens in two eras- the 70s and the 90s- splits as a love story and a horror stretch. This is not exactly new, but the director has managed to segue them seamlessly. That both the parts work is the film’s success and relative failure — as it doesn’t have one decisive flavour.
- Top New Indian movies and TV shows to watch in the UAE this week
- 10 Best Gangster Movies in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada
- New Malayalam Movies Released: What to watch this week
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The film begins typically. This part is set in the 90s, when a sad advocate, John Williams (Aju Varghese), runs away from professional ignominy, and moves to a lonely house near the beach. He and his wife, Daisy (Nilja K Baby), share an emotionally distant relationship. That they have three kids makes it worse. The family gets by in the quiet house that has — inevitably — tucked in its innards.
As it happens, every day, a signed inland letter arrives often in the name of one Freddy. Initially, it is taken as an object of fun. But when it becomes regular with eerie insistence, the family gets jittery. Williams is now fearfully curious about Freddy. he and his friend Ameer (Bhagath Manuel) are on a mission to find this elusive Freddy.
And this opens a new door. A new timeline, altogether. The scene shifts to the 70s, when public health was fragile, as it were. And here, we get to know who Freddy (Chandhunadh) and Anna Rose (Abhirami Bose) are. They are lovers, but not surprisingly, their romance doesn’t find fruition. Why? It is because of death. How?
And this is where the screenplay takes a fresh trajectory. The reason for the death is not typical. And the spirit that haunts the house is not exactly looking for blood, as vampires and ghosts generally do. It is not a vengeful spirit. It is a committed ghost seeking to reunite with its partner.
The horror part, though not precisely spine-chilling, does work. But it is the romance section that aces. Aju Varghese, hitherto seen primarily on comic characters, has a solid and severe nature and does a neat job of it. Chandhunadh and Abhirami Bose are spirited in more ways than in their performance. The rest of the cast is also more than adequate. As the priest, Anoop Menon gives a polished performance that avoids his usual affectations.
Sam C’s music, a bit loud in places, understands the territory and plays accordingly. The camerawork by Alby provides the film with the right visual feel and fervour.
All in all, this Phoenix burns bright.
What are the other critics saying about Phoenix?
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.