Every now and then, Mollywood churns out a paranormal flick that attempts to resuscitate the horror fan in us. Whether it be a haunted house or an unassuming family that confronts a furious ghost, the tropes have remained far and less the same. However, the treatment of these spirits, the psychological dilemma involved and the premises have undergone some change. 'Phoenix', directed by debutant Vishnu Bharathan and written by Midhun Manuel Thomas, is a movie that succeeds in exciting us with some familiar tropes but different treatment.
The movie follows a family of five who move into an isolated home near a beach. John (Aju Varghese), the patriarch of the house, is a difficult man. A lawyer by profession, he hates intrusion of any sort and wants to keep his wife and children under his command. He is happy to pay a six-month allowance for an uninterrupted stay at the house, only to realise later that it is haunted.
Unsigned letters addressed to one Freddy arrive frequently. Though John initially reads them with amusement, he soon begins to dread them, since the correspondent seems to know and hear every conversation inside the house. His children become victims of traumatic experiences inside the house. In an attempt to put an end to their growing fear, John and his friend Ameer (Bhagath Manuel) set out to trace the backstory of the letter writer.
The premise of the film has a 'Bhargavi Nilayam' vibe as it navigates a tale of horror by dwelling largely on a tragic love story. The makers have succeeded in creating a sense of fear and intrigue in the first half and most of that credit is on the background music by Sam C S. Though sometimes loud, the BGM plays a key role in elevating the film's viewing experience. The VFX effects and soulful music help in building the fear factor in the movie.
The film is set in two time periods – the 70s and 90s. While the makers succeed in portraying the 70s well using a tinted yellowish hue and some nice costumes, the 90s period doesn't seem as convincing. John's position as a lawyer and the underlying family issues are not explored well enough, but nevertheless, you feel a connection with the family and the predicament they are in.
The second half is undeniably beautiful, but to place an amazing love story in a horror-themed movie is tricky and sometimes threatens to take away the sheen of the film, especially for those who are looking for an out-and-out spine-chilling experience. In the end, 'Phoenix' leaves us emotionally shaken, yet yearning for the tension and the fear that gripped us in the first half.
The performances of the actors, especially Chandhunadh who plays Freddy, are note-worthy. Chandhunadh with his handsome looks and charming smile is the perfect hero material and has the ability to rise as the next star in Mollywood if he gets more opportunities. After 'Crime Files', Aju Varghese once again proves he has made the right choice to switch to character roles just like his seniors Jagadish and Indrans. Abhirami Bose and the child artists have also essayed their roles well.