Advertised as an ambitious mix of horror and investigative thriller, Balak’s Cold Case approaches a murder investigation from two parallel narratives. Representing the two genres it promises, on one hand, we have Medha (Aditi Balan) a single mother and journalist who starts experiencing supernatural forces at play in her new house.
On the other end of the spectrum, special investigative officer ACP Satyajith (Prithviraj Sukumaran) investigates a faceless murder, a skull discarded in a garbage bag. The narrative moves along a steady pace with tastefully portrayed horror and thriller sequences. It keeps the audience guessing, allowing them to solve the mystery as the plot moves forward, alongside the characters.
However, the film is far from perfect, as it does not deliver what it promises. It is easier to praise and call attention to what Cold Case could have been rather than what it is.
An Intriguing Plotline
The film delivers a promising and edge-of-the-seat plot, dividing the investigation into a parallel narrative. Both Medha and Satyajith are unaware of each other until the very end of the film. They investigate the same case from two angles to arrive at the same conclusion. The turbulence of the investigation and the uncertainty of the situation was well represented in the rustic and fragmentary editing of the film as scenes are left incomplete, leaving the audience to interpret them as they please.
Diversity of Female Characters
This is not a character-driven film, the narrative consists of multiple characters, all of them run amok on the screen. The film does not fall into the trap of a single, strong, female lead, instead offers a variety of women in different positions and their conflicting personalities. We have Medha, the fearless investigative journalist who is battling both personal and professional problems, Advocate Hairtha, her friend and a badass lawyer, Malini, a senior police official, Eva, a woman seeking spirituality, Zara, a blind medium for supernatural forces among powerful female characters. Balak does not use them as checkboxes to qualify feminist criteria, instead, they assert their presence in whatever screen time they receive.
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Cold Case lives up to our expectations of a realistic murder investigation. Without using overarching dialogues, elaborate fight sequences, unnecessary physical violence and dependence on jump scares, it manages to pull off a decent investigative thriller. The characters are ordinary individuals who are not emotionally associated with the case they are working on. Nothing about the investigation is personal to them, they are doing their job to the best of their abilities. The progression of the investigation is so realistic, that sometimes it seems to lag. However, this lag is intentional, because, in the real world, things don’t come easily to us, we need to connect the dots and rethink our theories. Also, like most murder investigations, Cold Case confronts us with supernatural conspiracy theories and explanations.
Solid Supporting Elements
Unlike most horror thrillers, this film does not have the advantage of using atmosphere and ambience to elevating the horror experience as it is set in the middle of the city. Instead, they have brilliant cinematography in some shots and chilling background music to qualify the characters and their emotions.
While catering to realism, the film falls short of memorable characters. Cold Case tries to incorporate a large cast of characters within a short time frame, thus, it does not delve into the personal lives of anybody besides what is required for the plot. What that leaves us with are caricatures of two-dimension, replaceable characters who have no screen presence. They do their job to facilitate the plot and nothing else.
Misdirects are the best way to evoke curiosity and frustration in the audience. It gives us possibilities to mull over and reason out. However, too many of these misdirects leave us confused and angry. Cold Case falls into this trap. In an attempt to complicate a seemingly simple narrative, introduces many subplots but does not complete any of them. We are left with more questions than when we started.
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Much of this film could benefit from another round of editing and deletion of characters. Dialogues as expository, delivered emotionlessly by side characters who are either stating the obvious or there to provide comic relief. While it does represent the progression of an investigation, the same information is repeated so many times that it almost seems like they are trying to convince the audience by telling them things, rather than showing and executing them.
Cold Case promised a plot-driven, chilling murder investigation with a horror twist, but it delivers lacklustre performances and a decent plot. However, it has the potential to become a forerunner to a different type of thriller film which Malayalam cinema has only begun to experiment with. That said, it looks like every third movie released in Malayalam claims to be in the thriller genre, and has almost nothing new to offer.