The movie, which has Prithviraj Sukumaran and Priya Anand in the lead, revolves around a paranormal force that gets unleashed after its protagonist purchases a Jewish antique called Dyubbuk box
Till 2017, a vast majority of horror movies in Malayalam came with elements of comedy; this was designed so as to bring the audience into theatres as filmmakers believed that a straight-horror film wouldn’t attract viewers. That’s why director Jay K’s Ezra holds a special place in the horror genre in Malayalam cinema – it shook off that safety net of comedy and focused on the script and genre-elements to keep the audience hooked.
The crux of the film – like many movies of the genre – is about a young couple moving to a new place, away from their roots and relationships. Jay, who has also scripted the movie, places his protagonists Ranjan (Prithviraj Sukumaran) and Priya (Priya Anand) in an alien environment. While the former is posted in a new job, Priya tries to bring a tinge of the familiar to keep her fear of change at bay, by renovating the house. Little does she know that an antique that she brings back home isn’t quite what it seems.
Over the years, Malayalam horror films have kept on using elements of black magic and spells by priests to exorcise the “possessed”. Ezra introduces the Jewish version of these, and it never once feels out of place due to the story evolving against the backdrop of a multi-cultural hub like Fort Kochi and Chendamangalam that have rich Jewish heritage. The evil spirit in the movie is trapped in a Dybbuk box with a clause that it would unleash hell on Earth after the last Jew leaves Kerala. As priests, you have rabbis who carry on their practice much like their counterparts in other religions, but at least the audience is treated to something novel here.
Jay has given an outlandish backstory to his characters – Ranjan here is a nuclear waste management specialist. It’s not something that you would find in a usual Malayalam horror film and yet it organically melds in the overall arc of what the tortured soul yearns to accomplish. The backstory of Abraham Ezra and Rosy too add up in the end, especially because the makers rely on deception and shock to tell the tale, and leave one thread unexplained for the audience to connect the dots.
The movie benefits greatly from neat performances by Prithviraj, Priya Anand, Sujith Shankar, Vijayaraghavan and a cameo from Tovino Thomas as an investigative officer, who quickly accepts the unscientific explanation for the deaths in the area.
Ezra has all the tropes of a horror film – from the creaky attic, broken glasses and a creepy presence in the bed to the wailing man, the vengeful spirit and a woman walking around with the head of a dog. However, it is the underpinnings of loneliness and betrayal, which the movie doesn’t quite nail, that makes the film a must-watch in the genre. It also helps that the script doesn’t give you half-baked information about Jewish mythology, just for the sake of a backstory that would make sense of its later outcome.
With a Bollywood remake titled Dybbuk, starring Emraan Hashmi and Darshana Banik, on the way, it would be a good time to stream the original Malayalam film on Amrita Online Movies channel on YouTube. The Hindi-dubbed version is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.