Malayalam Reviews

Nine-9 Review: This Psychological-Horror-Drama Wears A Hollywood Cloak, And Takes A Beaten Track

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Director: Jenuse Mohammad

Cast: Prithviraj, Mamta Mohandas, Wamiqa Gabbi

Composer: Shekar Menon

Jenuse Mohammad’s Nine-9 is set around a comet, the size of Mt Everest, which hits the Earth’s atmosphere in a rare occurrence, causing the planet to go without electricity for straight nine days. While the film begins with scientists and media personnel elucidating on what the comet’s arrival could mean, the build-up is that of a classic horror drama – there is a sense of unease in the music and the visuals that suggest everything in store isn’t scientifically explicable.

The film is centred on a celebrated astrophysicist, Albert Lewis (Prithviraj), who moves into a heritage bungalow in upper Himalayas to research the comet. He is a single father, brooding in the memories of his late wife, Annie (Mamta Mohandas), who died in childbirth. Somewhere down in his mind, he blames his seven-year-old son, Adam, for causing her death. The father and son share a cold relationship which turns more complicated over their stay in the Himalayas, especially during the 9 days the comet jinxes normal life on earth.

On the peripheral level, Nine-9 is a fascinating work that mixes many genres to conclude that the strongest weapon against humanity is not a tangible one, but the demons in man’s mind– fear, hatred and the basic instincts. However, shoddy writing, execution and performances ensure that the film falls flat not just in evoking the essential fear that should linger on the audience, but also the poignancy of the human relationships at the heart of the film. The other striking problem of the film is the carelessness with which it showcases the arrival of the comet, a global event that happens only once in a million years. It doesn’t get the weight of a solar-eclipse. A scene set inside the super market (an interesting single shot), where you see people rushing to hoard essentials for the nine days, is overpowered by a lengthy conversation between Albert and his assistants. Nine-9 has a comet, a Himalayan setting that is not very familiar to the local audience, and a wannabe-Hollywood style, but the narration tools that it uses are done-to-death home-grown.

The film begins with Albert as a child, watching solar eclipse with his old father (also played by Prithviraj) who says in an unnecessary ornate language, “Look up at the sky, Albert. It has answers to all your questions,” a line that foreshadows Albert’s troubled adulthood. The man, in one of the early scenes, introduces himself to his colleagues as “not a man of words”. Nevertheless, long explicatory dialogues abound in the film, telling you where to look and what to behold. The truth about Eva (Wamiqa Gabbi), a mysterious trekker who lands up at Albert’s abode one day, is spilled in one such dialogue by Adam, instead of it unfolding slowly and dramatically. The film isn’t concerned about how the child unravelled this information or how his father handles it.

One of the plot devices that the film heavily relies on to take the narrative ahead is the protagonist’ self-absorbed nature, his refusal to lend an ear to what others underneath him in class or power structure, have got to say. Adam, repeatedly complains of inability to sleep at night, shows visible signs of emotional sickness, and several times in the film approaches his father with secrets to share, only to be treated insensitively by Albert. Two of Albert’s favorite sub-ordinates try to help him in crucial situations, but the former rudely cuts them off and puts them in their place. This is a very old device (also the easiest) in Malayalam films, to hold information or secrets that are pivotal to the story from the audience using a character who plainly refuses to listen.

The father-son bond which is crucial to the film’s plot is also the most poorly delineated one in the film. Jenuse uses the most stereotypical moments to express the lack of love, sometimes in slow-motion shots trying to blend horror elements with Albert’s coldness and Adam’s sorrow. It is only through some conversations that the film tells of Adam’s behaviour issues. What we see is a sweet innocuous child, not tall enough to reach Albert’s knees, treated with so much hatred and insensitivity by the adults around him. This lack of coherence between what is said and what is shown adds to the flatness in the narrative.

The mythological sub-track of the film, of the archaic tribal communities believing that the comet is an agent of evil, is reduced to a superficial level. It is used like how Christianity and its symbols are used in classic horror dramas. Eva cannot enter a Buddhist monastery, just as the ghosts in films such as Aakasha Ganga and Conjuring are warded off using a cross or prayer beads. The other possibility – that Eva is a figment of Albert’s erratic mind (a plot-twist that might remind one of The Sixth Sense or The Shutter Island) – isn’t argued well enough with reasons to convince the audience, rendering the tail end of the film a jumble. The one who does the role of a shrink in the film is Inayat Khan, Albert’s Nobel-winning astrophysicist guru, who tosses in psychiatry jargon with a suspicious ease.

What really works in favour of the film is Wamiqa’a portrayal of the evil, aided by some great VFX shots and Shekhar Menon’s background score. All the intrigue and chill that Eva creates, however, is flushed down the drain by Prithviraj’s performance as Albert, the elephant in the room. Neither Albert’s grief and confusions nor his passion for science is believable, thanks to the card-board like stiffness with which he plays the role. His decision to enter the field of film production with Nine-9 shouldn’t surprise anyone, for this film follows a pattern that the actor has been endorsing through his last several films, like Adam Joan, Ezra or Ranam, where the story unfolded in a terrain far away from home, and actors playing their parts with a calculated coldness that is usually associated with Hollywood. Nevertheless, all these films lack the imagination or technical brilliance to match up to their tonal aspirations. Nine-9 isn’t different.

*****

The Nine-9 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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