‘Psycho’ (2020) review

Credit: Double Meaning Production

Psycho, released on 24 January 2020 world over, has been running successfully with mixed responses from critics and audience. It is a psychological thriller in Tamil, written and directed by Mysskin. It is a fascinating dive into the psyche of a serial killer. The film tries to humanize the serial killer with an emotional score. It succeeds in the process as we tend to empathize with the killer. Mysskin almost makes us shed a tear for the killer. At a time when there’s a lot of debate about whether those who inflict harm on women such as rapists deserve the gallows or forgiveness, here is a film justifying why it’s essential to empathize with such people.

Mysskin knows his craft well, and Psycho has his signature all over. Various elements remind us of his earlier films. A particular dialogue seems similar to that of the little boy in Thupparivalan, the humour is the style we saw in Savarakathi and hymns at regular intervals bring to mind Arputham from Super Deluxe. In his world, the women never hesitate to swear and the men go to any length to creep us out. Mysskin claims this film a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, and he has justified it. There’s intense but necessary violence. The psychopath isn’t painted with a black shade as in other movies. There are nearly zero unwanted dialogues or scenes. There are the bird’s eye view shots. A skeleton turning  up in a decrepit cell and  Dagini climbing up a hillock to only stop in front of a tiny pond that is shaped like the vulva, a bird in the pond caressing  itself and the hill glowing under the night sky- if these are not Hitchcockian, then what is?

The film begins with Albert Maslov’s quote: “We are simultaneously gods and worms”. Rajkumar is the antagonist, Angulimala, a beast on screen in the most literal sense. In spite of his baby face, he sends chills down the spine. He is God, a ruthless one at that, in front of his victims, and a worm, in front of one who has turned him into this version of himself. Nithya Menen as Kamala comes up with a phenomenal performance. Having been confined to wheel chair when hunting the serial killer, she has her own axe to grind. Her introduction scene in Psycho definitely stands out. She has been brilliantly essayed as a hot-headed, foul-mouthed former cop. Her scenes with her mother are filled with humour and this lightens up the mood of an otherwise unsettling movie. Aditi Rao Hydari as Dahini brings the right amount of vulnerability and tenacity. She is a radio jockey, who is about to accept the love of Gautham, a visually challenged man, whom she had earlier turned down for stalking her. Angulimala kidnaps her but he is unable to kill her because her calmness while facing death unsettles him. She challenges him that Gautham will find him, even if she dies. But, will Gautham, given his disability, track him down and rescue Dahini? Udhayanidhi Stalin as Gautham plays the character with a lot of conviction. Mysskin has drawn the best from supporting cast as well that includes Rajkumar, Singam Puli, and Director Ram.

Credit: Double Meaning Production

Illayaraja’s score has uplifted the movie to a different level altogether. The use of silence accentuates the mood of the film. The debutant Cinematographer Tanveer Mir has aided Mysskin’s vision by capturing the scenes aesthetically. This is one such film where even blood looks beautiful. The mood of the film is conveyed by light. For instance, the red light lit in the dingy dungeon indicates the rage of the psychopath. Similarly, when Gautham is lying on the floor of his home, a perfect square in the centre eclipses the sun rays forming a hole. It showcases his mindset. Eerie night sky is lit only by a petrol bunk on a highway and the traffic signal is perennially in red. Under the lights, stands a prostitute. Mysskin’s empathetic gaze on society is all over the screen.

Mysskin plays around with a lot of themes. Religion is one with almost all characters invoking their gods and at some point; even the non-believers are being pushed to pray. There is dichotomy at the centre of any religion: the good and the bad. Disability is yet another focus that Mysskin has in this film. Every principal character is disabled in some manner but they are intelligent, and crime solvers needing little physical help. Mysskin has them even driving a vehicle! Psycho differs from a conventional serial killer film in that we see the cruelty of Angulimala’s act. There is no whodunit kind of thrill. Mysskin explores something deeper, more psychological. It is the most violent film and sure does live up to the title. The jumpscare technique is at its best with violence and disturbing visuals. It isn’t an emotional film, but it sure works as a serial killer thriller that doesn’t hold back when it comes to depiction of blood and gore. It stays true to the genre and achieves a lot more than most films in this space.

Credit: Double Meaning Production

Mysskin relies more on visuals to narrate the story, than on the dialogues. This is seen from the beginning. We are shown a woman’s head being sliced off, next the frame cuts to show us a close up of windmill’s blade. In the very next scene, we see the painting of a samurai in the background. Naming of characters is something not to be missed. Gautham seems to seek relief in Buddhism. This we perceive as we see Buddha alongside a room full of Hindu deities. Kamala Das must have been named after the poet of the same name from Kerala, who is known for her writings on women’s issues, sexuality and freedom.

The movie is compelling and suspenseful. As a writer and director, Mysskin has proved that he is the finest. He has given us a unique cinematic experience combining the first-rate filmmaking with perceptive writing. The film is filled with the moments that have become his signatures- eccentric supporting characters, the long tracking shots, and the action taking place mostly at night. His is a universe where disabled characters and sex workers are treated with dignity.

Credit: Double Meaning Production

Finally, Psycho is a film in which we empathize with the villain who has brutally killed fifteen people. Some areas of the film do seem problematic. A few eccentric characters in the movie shock us. The villain’s teacher’s character makes us wonder if what she did was right or wrong. The grand theatrics in the climax dilutes the mood and adds nothing. Hence the last act seems a little far-fetched. But for this, the film gives a punch on our guts. Yes, Psycho has many other interesting elements that definitely wow us and we look past the shortcomings.

Manimala Balaraman

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