Cold Case (2021)

I often write that I’m not a fan of horror films, but I seem to find myself enjoying them. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’m not a fan of Western horror films since recent offerings from India such as Tumbbad, Alidu Ulidavaru and older films like Gehrayee have all been excellent. So, when an Indian horror film is mixed in with an investigative thriller, I’m definitely going to watch! What is interesting about Cold Case is firstly how well the title suits the film in all respects, and secondly the juxtaposition of a police inquiry with a psychic investigation of the same crime. The cast are excellent, the effects generally good and despite some second half doldrums, overall Cold Case delivers on both crime and supernatural storylines.

The film starts with a couple of exorcisms, with the second featuring a child supposedly possessed by his murdered father who then names his killer. The subsequent police case is part of a TV program by journalist Medha (Aditi Balan) who works on features dealing with the paranormal. She is a confirmed sceptic though and doesn’t believe in ghosts or paranormal ideas at all. Medha is looking for a new house after separating from her husband and on the way to view a prospective place to live, she passes a fisherman. The camera moves from following Medha to focus on the fisherman, who pulls up a black plastic bag in his net that he finds contains a skull. As Medha decides to take the house, the police team of ACP Sathyajith (Prithviraj), Muhammad (Anil Nedumangad), Rajprakash (Bilas Nair) and newly appointed officer Neela Maruthan (Pooja Mohranraj) start their investigation into the suspicious death suggested by the skull.

Medha moves into the new house along with her daughter Chinnu (Ester Evana Sherin) and her maid Chandrika (Shailaja P. Ambu). Through conversations with her overly spiritual mother Padmaja (Parvathy T) and her lawyer Haritha (Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli), Medha reveals that she is divorcing her husband Arya because he won’t stand up to his controlling mother Roshni (Sanuja Somanath) and that her sister who was studying parapsychology suicided a year before. Medha herself is a strong and confident woman who is forging a good career for herself and is confident and well able to take care of herself. That’s just as well, since shortly after she moves into the new house there are a series of odd occurrences centred around the fridge. The first is actually the most disturbing when Chinnu drinks some water from the fridge and grimaces, then pours it down the sink. Bizarrely the water doesn’t drain, and when Medha uses a skewer to unblock the drain, she pulls up a tangle of black hair. It doesn’t sound scary but it definitely raises chills!

As Medha starts to suspect there is something very odd about the fridge, she enlists the help of a medium, Zara Zacchai (Suchitra Pillai) who wears some impressive scleral contact lenses! With Zara’s help, Medha discovers the identity of her ghostly visitor, just as ACP Sathyajith, using more conventional means, also discovers the identity of the skull. Both are one and the same – Eva Maria (Athmiya Rajan). 

The police investigation follows a more conventional route, using forensic anthropology, digital reconstruction and dental records. There is speculation that the body may be that of a girl who went missing, rumoured to be linked to the Home Minister’s son. While there are other missing persons being considered, the lack of any of the rest of the body also confounds the police efforts. While the investigation discovers more about Eva Maria, Medha’s paranormal investigation is also close to finding out the truth and eventually ACP Sathyajith and Medha come together to solve the crime.

Overall the paranormal storyline is more successful with some genuinely creepy moments, although the final scene is less effective. Cinematographers Gireesh Gangadharan and Jomon T. John use a mix of dark sets and flickering shadows to increase the scare factor while director Tanu Balak drip feeds the scares to increase the tension. The police investigation doesn’t move out of a fairly well-worn path, and the promise of having a new officer involved sadly doesn’t amount to anything. Prithviraj is good but the rest of his team are relegated to simply being there so that ACP Sathyajith has someone to whom he can explain his reasoning. This is a step too far into tell, rather than show territory and the storyline suffers as a result. There are plenty of red herrings, but none of them seem to be all that plausible and the team quickly narrow in on the life and disappearance of Eva Marie. 

Aditi Balan has more to do and better dialogue as well. Her struggle to keep Chinnu in the face of her mother-in-law’s determined efforts to keep the child provides a good backdrop, while Chinnu’s attachment to a particularly creepy doll and her fascination with a well on the property also add to the tension. Suchitra Pillai is also good as the eccentric psychic, adding some good drama to Medha’s more pragmatic approach to the haunting. One of the few false notes in this part of the film is Medha’s lack of surprise and to some extent her apparent lack of fear in the face of the supernatural happenings in her house. While some of this is explained by her role in debunking the paranormal for TV, Aditi Balan never seems to be quite worried enough about the strange things happening with her fridge. 

I really liked the idea of parallel investigations, one police and one paranormal. Although the police investigation doesn’t work quite as well, the cross-over between the two is interesting enough to be entertaining. I found the paranormal aspects to be creepy, but not scary enough that the film can’t be watched alone at night. The subtitles on the streaming version I liked were good too, although I did read that the translation of ‘northern Indian’ for Eva Marie’s husband was inaccurate and it should have read ‘Hindu’, which seems like an odd mistranslation but doesn’t have any significant impact on the plot. This may not be scary enough for fans of true horror, and it’s also not convoluted enough for aficionados of crime thrillers, but the two aspects together make for an overall entertaining whole. Worth watching for Prithviraj, Zara Zacchai’s séance and Aditi Balan’s pragmatism. 3 ½ stars.

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