The screenplay in the first half is intriguing, with the viewers grappling with the case as much as the lead characters, but the plot becomes less and less convincing as the film progresses.

Actor Prithviraj Sukumaran (Still from 'Cold Case')
Flix Review Wednesday, June 30, 2021 - 09:29
Worth a watch

There's a lot to like in Cold Case directed by debut filmmaker Tanu Balak. It's a police procedural and a supernatural thriller at the same time, with two characters independently arriving at the same questions and answers that lead to solving a puzzle. On paper, this presents a delicious mind game for the audience too (I was reminded in parts of the Tamil thriller Eeram). A skull wrapped in a trash bag that emerges in a fisherman's net is the starting point of the mystery. Forensic analysis says that the murder was committed a year ago, but the police have no idea who the victim is. They first have to figure that out before they can identify the killer. It's game on for ACP Sathyajith who is called to investigate the case.

Prithviraj looks super fit as the Assistant Commissioner of Police, but his role is poorly written and the actor ends up looking robotic. Considering the last time we saw him on screen was in Ayyappanum Koshiyum, where he was simultaneously the tough guy and the vulnerable son, the one note performance in Cold Case probably has more to do with the script's need to impress the audience with Sathyajith's 'brilliance' rather than the actor's interpretation of the role itself. It's good to see women police officers on screen, but they're mere satellites to Sathyajith who seems to be the only cop in the entire force who is capable of deducing anything. Aditi Balan as investigative journalist Medha gets a much better deal. A single parent who wishes to separate from her husband who kowtows to his mother's wishes in every aspect of life, Medha's independent personality is presented without any frills - a welcome representation when divorce is usually demonised on screen. Aditi delivers an assured performance, and along with the child actor who plays her daughter and Mala Parvathy who plays her mom, she brings some warmth to the otherwise 'cold' premise. Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli, too, does well in her pivotal role as Advocate Haritha.

It's appreciable that both the lead characters, Sathyajith and Medha, get nearly the same amount of screen time, and without unnecessary romance or action scenes thrown into the mix. The title suggests the meeting point of the rational policeman and the journalist who has an interest in the paranormal. Sathyajith approaches it as a crime with very few clues and hence it's a cold case. For Medha, it's a fridge in her rented house that starts her down the path of hunting the murderer. Hence quite literally, a 'cold' case. The screenplay in the first half is intriguing, with Sathyajith and Medha both trying to grapple with what's happening. You want to know as much as they do who the victim is and what happened to them.

But not everything about the plot is convincing. For instance, when Medha and her young daughter wake up in a room full of water, the mother's response is to just ask the domestic help to mop up the floor. Though she's an 'investigative' journalist, Medha doesn't even check if there's a broken water pipe in the house. Instead, she approaches Zara (Suchitra Pillai), an expert in the occult, to crack the mystery.

Tanu gives us a reason for why Medha decides to stay put in the clearly haunted house but it still seems like a stretch. I mean, doesn't a single parent in a busy job already have enough on her plate without a ghost who wants to communicate with her? But I suppose one must always make allowances for the bad decisions made by characters in horror films who are determined to stick by their real estate choices even if it means they might just die. Or the peculiar love that their children always seem to have for monstrous toys (it's a creepy doll in this one). Suchitra Pillai looks sufficiently eerie and eccentric as Zara but the scene when she holds court ends up being unintentionally funny. Some of the other scary moments though, work well, raising goosebumps when they should, with the camera and the background score building up the suspense.

However, there are one too many convenient coincidences in the plot for Cold Case to pull it off entirely. It is a small world indeed but can it be so small a world that vital clues that link the murderer to both Sathyajith and Medha just happen to be there? It's also puzzling that while the film is set during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are important references to it, none of the characters wear a mask or reflect the times we're living in. Was it made with the assumption that by the time it was released, normalcy would have been restored?

Tanu packs the narrative with all the elements of a crime thriller, including red herrings. However, these end up falling flat because the lead characters themselves are either oblivious or uninterested in pursuing them. It's only the audience that is left wondering about it. The climax reveal feels like a letdown because the motive of the crime is suddenly thrust upon the audience, without the rewarding pinpricks of excitement that a good thriller will give you as your doubts firm up to become confirmation. The guessing game is no fun if it's only the characters on screen who figure out everything (they have the script, duhh) and make high school level Powerpoint presentations with their findings.

I was also troubled by the film validating the use of exorcists for those who exhibit mental illness, suggesting that it's only a question of belief - whether you buy the supernatural or not - and not considering the damage caused to the patient by such practices. Yes, it's a long accepted convention in horror flicks but it's time directors did something more original with it.

Cold Case is a decent debut, and a thriller that has much going for it. It would have been far more chilling if the writing had lived up to the ambition of the script. As it stands, it's lukewarm.

The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Watch: Trailer of 'Cold Case' 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

Read:

'Cold Case' doesn't give prominence to stardom: Director Tanu Balak interview

I want to do more Malayalam movies, dub for myself: Aditi Balan to TNM

 

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