It’s not easy to convincingly pull off the idea of a malevolent spirit wreaking havoc and taking lives through technology. Ranjeet, Salil and the film’s scriptwriters Abhayakumar K and Anil Kurian achieve exactly that
Story: Social media addict Thejaswini gets into a fix after losing her phone at a temple ritual. She purchases a temporary phone of an unknown brand online so her life continues without a pause; but the gadget unleashes a series of life-threatening events forcing her and her friends to find a solution before a grave danger comes to pass.
Review: For the longest time, filmmakers in Malayalam cinema have dabbled with the horror genre with the safe backing of comedy elements. Their fear is driven by the assumption that the Malayali audience are usually the first to find logical faults, even in a genre that uses supernatural tropes. This has forced the directors and scriptwriter to come up with novel concepts that movies like Ezra had employed, while ensuring that it passed the ‘logic’ test of the audience. On both these counts, director duo Ranjeet Kamala Sankar and Salil V Sankaran’s Chathur Mukham is a success.
The movie centres on Thejaswini (Manju Warrier), who runs a CCTV business with friend Antony (Sunny Wayne). Her life itself revolves around social media. But this comes to a disruptive halt when she loses her phone after a temple ritual. A troubled Thejaswini opts for a cheaper phone of an unknown brand online. What it brings with itself is a series of unexplained events that threaten her life. She and her friends have to race against time to find an explanation and a solution to stop the grave danger.
At the heart of it, Chathur Mukham succeeds because of its novel concept; it’s not easy to convincingly pull off the idea of a malevolent spirit wreaking havoc and taking lives through the use of technology. Ranjeet, Salil and the film’s scriptwriters Abhayakumar K and Anil Kurian do exactly that. They smartly use the traditional tropes of a mudiyattam ritual and an occult priest to set a predictable atmosphere, but only to support the audience in their reasoning. Once that’s done, they deviate to the more tech-driven concepts that are broken down scientifically and connected to the overall arc. However, making the script’s technology bit fool-proof does lead to them not focusing on the horror angle and hence Chathur Mukham works more as techno-thriller with a few scattered frights and a supernatural presence.
The film’s visuals, by cinematographer Abhinandan Ramanujam, is another highlight. Every scene has a contrast that works brilliantly. Manju’s hostel room with its creaky fan is almost always filled with the aura of blinking neon lights and the outdoor frames are tightly composed, pulling the viewers in. Even the denouement shot inside a lathe workshop has a huge cell tower – a convenient device for storytelling – but it still heightens the drama, by juxtaposing two different scenarios and also serves as a leveller of sorts for both the living and the dead.
The makers have also ensured that Manju Warrier’s Thejaswini isn’t the usual helpless character in horror movies, she takes it on and a scene before the climax is . While she is aided by Sunny Wayne’s Antony and scientist Clement (Alencier Ley Lopez), their characters serve more as reflections of people who look for rational explanations. Manju convincingly plays Thejaswini, for whom the phone is literally an extension of herself.
Chathur Mukham also serves as a reminder of the value of relationships and the world around us that people seem to forget while obsessed with their virtual life. Even without the fright elements, this movie, which has been billed as Malayalam’s first techno horror-thriller, makes for a good watch and kudos to the makers for attempting the novel theme while also ensuring that it is packaged with good research, visuals and performances.