Suspense and curiosity are used as the key aspects to establish the plot points in Appu Bhattathiri's directorial debut Nizhal. It’s the kind of reverse engineering in plotting, to fit in a criminal and few murders.
Ever since the posters and trailers of Nizhal was revealed, a curiosity was built around the mask worn by Kunchacko Boban's character in the film. And the makers waste no time to state the reason for the same.
The very first shot opens with an owl, a symbol of paranormal wisdom, regal silence, and fierce intelligence, seemingly a reference to the major character. In the background, we witness an accident and soon the camera zooms in to a hospital room. John Baby (Kunchacko Boban) is the one injured here and is asked to wear a mask as part of the treatment for his injured nose.
The post traumatic stress disorder in the wake of the accident makes things difficult for him. In the meantime, his friend Shalini (Divya Prabha) who is a clinical psychologist talks to him about a strange story involving a little boy (Izin Hash). As a judicial magistrate of a civil court, John Baby gets curious regarding the boy and wishes to meet him. His protective mother Sharmila played by Nayanthara though initially hesitant, later develops a friendship with John Baby.
The basic thread begins with him investigating the boy's story as a case. He investigates and finds himself in eerie circumstances.
The filmmakers make sure to give a sense of shock at each intervals, because the point of the film is to create a suspense and the mystery that uncovers it. Director and editor Appu Bhattathiri's sharp and crisp cuts takes forward the narrative smoothly. S Sanjeev's screenplay sets the tense tone perfectly, managing to build a genuine and chilling thread.
There is an enveloping sense of underlying gloom that each characters exude. After a decent first half , the second half moves with a bumpy ride. By the climax, the convincing element for a thriller struggles to emerge. Although the tail end provided a breakthrough, Nizhal gets derailed by the cheesy backstory of the antagonist.
However, the actors, technical aspects and even the song sequences are so in tune with the general tone of the film that it’s impossible not to be gripped by their world.
Kunchacko Boban as the enigmatic judicial magistrate looks effortless. Though Kunchako Boban dominates the film, the flawless supporting cast gives it its finesse. Especially interesting is the chemistry between him and Nithin played by Izin Hash. The innocence and the mystery is well developed between them. The conversations between Kunchacko and Rony David give a light-hearted mood to the overall dark setting.
Appu Bhattathiri as an editor seemed to be clear with his vision as director -- knowing precisely how many seconds to retain a scene and how many to scissor out. With a cinematic approach, he manages to cover up the loose ends in writing.
The culmination of the mystery simmering underneath a stoic surface makes Nizhal a decent watch.