If there is one genre in which Malayalam cinema – or Indian cinema in general – has often fallen behind, it’s good old horror. Even as a handful of successful and critically acclaimed horror movies stand out amongst the masses, the industry has generally struggled to build well-written films that are both scary and rewatchable. Notably, this very dearth has also pushed filmmakers to constantly reinvent the genre itself, especially in the past few years, leaving in its trail some horror films that are truly original and fear-inducing while also being of substance.
One of the most anticipated Malayalam movies of 2024 is Rahul Sadasivan’s Mammootty-starrer Bramayugam, which is gearing up for release on February 15. The film is said to follow Thevan (Arjun Ashokan), a folk singer of the lowered Paanan caste, who has a fateful encounter with an aged feudal lord (Mammootty) while escaping slavery. The film’s trailer, set against stunning black-and-white visuals and featuring Mammootty with a shadowy aura of dark magic, has already ignited the internet.
As we await the goosebumps, let’s look at some of the most inventive, must-watch films of the horror genre that have come out of Malayalam cinema in the past few years.
Jithu Madhavan’s directorial debut Romancham was a sleeper hit, centred around seven Malayali bachelors in Bengaluru whose lives take a hilarious but also terrifying turn when they dabble with a Ouija board. The ensemble cast of Soubin Shahir, Arjun Ashokan, Sajin Gopu, Siju Sunny, Abin Bino, Anantharaman Ajay, and Afsal PH bring the film’s lovable-goofy characters to life, their quirky personalities and relatable struggles providing several laugh-out-loud moments. The film walks the tightrope between humour and horror, tickling your funny bone and sending shivers down your spine in turns.
Romancham is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.
After the death of her ailing mother, Asha (Revathy) and her son Vinu (Shane Nigam) begin to experience strange events that gradually cause them to descend into paranoia and desperation, as they struggle with the nagging feeling that there is someone else present in the house. Aided by the excellent performances by its two protagonists, Rahul Sadasivan’s Bhoothakaalam transcends the typical haunted house narrative, offering a chilling exploration of psychological horror intertwined with raw portrayals of strained mother-son dynamics, clinical depression, and addiction. The film also doesn’t resort to cheap jump scares, instead opting for a creepy slow-burn atmospheric horror. A must-watch for fans of the genre.
Bhoothakaalam is available to stream on SonyLIV.
Blending elements of folklore and fantasy with cosmic horror, Kumari directed by Nirmal Sahadev doesn’t shy away from delving into darker themes. The film features a charming Aishwarya Lekshmi as the protagonist, who is married off to the younger son (Shine Tom Chacko) of a feudal family in the faraway village of Kanhirangat, where something diabolical looms. She soon realises that her husband’s family holds a dark secret, a generations-old pact involving a horrific sacrifice. Despite taking notable inspiration from the trailblazing Hindi horror film Tumbbad, Kumari is a rather fresh take on the supernatural genre in Malayalam cinema, and its visual and technical superiority make up for its occasional scripting flaws.
Kumari is available to stream on Netflix.
Nithya Menen delivers a powerful solo act in Praana, which features her as the only actor on screen while others appear as voices on a telephone or people on a television. But director VK Prakash, with his single actor, manages to pull off a horror film that is legitimately scary. At the film’s heart is a well-written protagonist, who is hell-bent on disproving the existence of ghosts in a creepy old abandoned mansion away from the city’s hustle bustle. A psychological horror thriller by genre, the film deftly builds suspense and fear through its chilling atmosphere and delicate character exploration.
Praana is currently not available for streaming.
Nine unfolds over nine days and follows a troubled astrophysicist (a compelling Prithviraj), grappling with a disturbing anomaly impacting his son and the surrounding community. Directed by Januse Mohammed Majeed, the film blends stunning visuals with an eerie soundscape, taking you on a journey through alternate realities, blurring the lines between science and the supernatural, and prompting questions about existence, the boundaries of reality, and the depths of the human psyche. The film’s experimental value alone makes it worth a watch.
Nine is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.