There's no other genre in cinema like horror where women consistently get meaty roles. It took a "ghost" to upstage Rajinikanth in Chandramukhi - the Superstar's films have been named after his character for several years now and the 2005 horror film has been the only anomaly.
Malayalam film E with Gautami in the lead role gives the veteran actor the lion's share of the screen space and it is a joy to watch her mastery over her craft. She's surrounded by a bunch of young actors who deliver uneven performances but whenever the camera is on her character Malathi Menon, the Alzheimer patient who is increasingly turning violent, Gautami owns the scene.
She's capable of drawing out tears and terrifying you in equal parts. When the young team making a documentary film on Alzheimer patients asks her to speak of her experience, Malathi says she knows she's fighting a battle she will eventually lose...but that her greatest fear is forgetting her daughter Adhira (Nithya Naresh). It could have been one of those saccharine 'mother sentiment' moments that we've seen one too many times for it to really have an impact but there's something about the way Gautami makes this assertion which succeeds in moving the viewer. And it is essential to buy into this strong mother-daughter bond if the rest of the plot is to work.
In the old tharavad house where she lives with her daughter, single mother Malathi is slowly losing her mind. Or is it that there are darker forces at play?
Frankly, the 'darker forces' in this Kukku Surendran directorial do very little to provide the chills. They are, at best, distracting. However, there is much to like in this small film - take for instance, the fact that Malathi is a widow but loves to wear make-up. Or that she's excited to "act" in a film about her health condition.
She hasn't given up on life because she lost her husband at a young age, she continues to pursue her interests in life, turning the tharavad into a home-stay for sustenance. There's also Anjali Nair who doesn't get much screen time but is effective nevertheless. When one of the guests asks her if she's a 'cook', she shoots back proudly that she's a 'chef'.
The "youth" characters go overboard at times with their exuberance but at least, there are no judgmental lines about the young women drinking or smoking. The character Alex, however, sticks out like a sore thumb with cringe-worthy comedy that tries to pass off molesting women as humour. The background score for these bits doesn't help.
The film is based on Rohan Bajaj's novel The Unknown but it is also reminiscent of the 1993 cult classic Manichitrathaazhu in parts, especially in the second half. There is, of course, a vital difference between the two. In the 1993 film, Ganga (Shobana) is believed to be possessed by a spirit when she actually has a mental health condition. In E, the mental health condition becomes a reason for those around Malathi to accept her strange behaviour without question.
As a horror film, E is not without its share of jumps. Gautami, at any rate, looks super creepy wandering around in her nightie. The film belongs to her and she nails the part.
The songs seem unnecessary and disrupt the narrative, especially in the second half when we're meant to be at the edge of our seats as things heat up. However, when the Chikkubukku girl swings a leg, it still puts a smile on your face.