Nobody in Tamil cinema has made blood look as poetic as Mysskin. At a time when we're so inured to violence on screen that it hardly moves us, Mysskin lends it a tender treatment that makes us sit up and watch. The colours, lighting, and music speak to us more than the characters – in fact, the people on screen are like marionettes against a shadow screen, only in service of the invisible master who wants to communicate his story with the audience. That of compassion and forgiveness, peace and release.
Psycho doesn't waste any time in introducing us to the brutal serial murders or the man behind them. Loosely based on the story of Angulimala, a serial killer who committed 99 murders but reformed because he met Gautama Buddha, Psycho too has a man in a killing frenzy and a Gautham (Udhayanidhi Stalin) who is determined to stop him. The killer captures women, beheads them, and displays them stripped to their underwear. He seems unstoppable and the police haven't got a clue.
Aditi Rao Hydari plays Dakhini, an RJ who is captured by the killer. The name is an interesting choice. In Buddhism, the dakinis are fierce female spirits who ate human flesh but also provided enlightenment to mankind. I was initially irritated by the Dakhini of Psycho – Aditi looks pristine and angelic, like every other Tamil cinema heroine, and the insipid romance between her and Gautham doesn't help matters. He's a blind music conductor who stalks her and cannot take no for an answer. Here we go again, I thought. But despite the lack of originality in how Mysskin conceives the relationship, Dakhini grows on you as the film progresses. You understand why Aditi fits the role – her delicate, quivering face is just what the script demands.
Nithya Menen plays Kamala Das. No, she isn't a writer, but she does have a penchant for the obscene. She's yet another surprising character who's thrown into this bizarre investigation. As the perpetually snappy Kamala, Nithya is comical and compelling all at once.
None of it seems remotely probable – a blind man drives a car with the help of a quadriplegic; a homemaker mom transforms into a private investigator overnight; a police officer hums an AM Rajah song before peacefully accepting his fate...if you stop to examine whether people would actually react like this, if their response would be so dramatically different to what you'd imagine, Psycho will be lost on you. But if you buy into the film's grand illusion, in its striking visuals and the haunting music (Ilaiyaraaja), it will drag you through the seabed and ensure a successful drowning.
There are the typical moments of Mysskin dark humour even within the dark world that he builds. At the beginning, there is a clumsy attempt to preach about caste killings and I wondered if Mysskin too was taking the "message padam" route. But thankfully, the writing steers clear of such impulses as the film unfolds. In an attempt to bring more people to theatres, filmmakers often strike a compromise to get the coveted 'U' or at least 'U/A' certificate. But Psycho has no such ambitions. There's nudity, but it isn't sexual. There's talk of sex, but it isn't ribald. The psycho gets a back story and it has some common elements with what we've seen in other serial killer films, but it's still imaginative. The scenes are superbly staged, especially towards the end when Dakhini presides over a gory, visceral retelling of a tale.
You wonder why Gautham is so colourless. He only gets some focus during the 'Unna Nenachu' song, but the ending tells you why. Gautham wasn't meant to stop this Angulimala, this situation demanded someone stronger than him to give the troubled soul his liberation.
The film begins with a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock but Psycho 2020 isn't the kind of thriller with a complex chessboard at its heart. This Psycho is Mysskin style, an open wound with oozing blood. It flows as smoothly too.
Watch the trailer here:
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.