Forensic: cliches and evil stereotypes kill the thrill
Writing an investigative thriller is a tough job. Especially, the ending. After comedy, it is the most difficult genre to execute as minor infraction could ruin the whole film. In-depth knowledge of police procedurals, legal loopholes and science is essential to craft a decent thriller. Forensic is the third in the line of investigative thrillers this year, following Anjaam Pathira and Anveshanam. Touted as the first in Malayalam to focus on forensics, the film is riddled with genre tropes and cardboard characters notwithstanding glaring plot holes.
The film begins with the ordeals of a boy whose interest in reptiles and animal carcass enrages his father who punishes him harshly. The physical abuse takes its toll and the boy, now in his teens, strangles his father and buries him in the backyard of his house, with a manic grin on his face. Cut to the present, a five-year-old girl goes missing and in a couple of days, her body is found. She was stabbed to death. The investigating officer Rithika Xavier (Mamta Mohandas) suspects the hand of a serial killer. She sets up a special team and has to reluctantly agree to the inclusion of medico-legal advisor Samuel John Kattookkaran (Tovino Thomas), the brother of her ex-husband Xavier Kattookaran (Saiju Kurup). Rithika also includes Shikha (Reba Monica John) as Sam’s assistant and her ‘spy’. Meanwhile, more girls get abducted and are later found stabbed to death.
Despite Rithika’s reservations, Sam makes some inroads into the case quickly. His assumption that a child is involved in the murders is proven true. As the investigative team believes that they have cracked the case, Sam finds new evidence leading to bloodier discoveries.
Writer duo Akhil Paul and Anas Khan debuted with Prithviraj starrer 7th Day. Tovino who was an up and coming actor then played a supporting role in the thriller. Years later, the duo has the young star as their lead in their directorial debut. To their credit, the writer-directors have done decent amount of research into forensic procedures and has used those insights quite well. But the pressures of commercial demands seem to have gotten the best of them as the film resorts to clichés and trodden plot lines—tipping their hats to the veteran Renji Panicker, who has written a fair share of bombastic over the top thrillers in the 90s.
Panicker’s films had women holding senior positions, but are always portrayed as whimsical, arrogant, and intellectually inferior to the male protagonists who ‘enlightens and saves’ them. The template is followed in Forensic, though thankfully they didn’t add uber-machismo to Tovino’s Sam. Mamta’s character, whose intuition about the serial killer is proven right, suddenly loses her investigative skills the moment Sam is introduced. She is reduced to being egotistical, rash and reluctant to accept logic.
Reba’s character is also portrayed as dumb, whose idiocy reveals to Sam that she is Rithika’s spy right in her introductory scene. In the next scene she is shown writing down an info that is to be kept secret from Sam on an X-ray screen using a permanent marker. And the hero swoops in and rescues her with a dose of basic chemistry lesson. These are lazy tropes that filmmakers have been using to portray the hero’s intelligence. Such misogyny, though subtler than earlier, is not acceptable.
As the film progresses, the writers bring in more twists and viewers cannot shake off the déjà vu feeling. They seem to have learnt from the Abbas-Mastan school. The film slips into slasher mode towards the end involving little girls in gory settings. The villain’s motivations, apart from his psychosis, is not clear at all. Nothing in his past shows any reason for him to target little girls only. This is nothing but a commercial ploy because violence against women elicits more sympathy from viewers.
In terms of performance, Tovino is still Tovino. He does not bring any nuance to the character. Mamta, Saiju and Reba go through the motions and there is nothing memorable about their performances. Coming to villainy, the directors seem to think that maniacal smiles, blank stares and awkward physical movements are a must to exhibit evil. Seeing the histrionics of the villain in Forensic, the subtle yet menacing cameo of Indrans in Anjaam Pathira comes to mind. That was a masterclass in portraying psychotic nature.
Jakes Bejoy is a busy man, with his name being a common factor in quite a number of recent releases. The background score was ear-splitting. But having heard his work in Trance, it feels like he just worked according to the instructions that were given to him.
Forensic had an interesting premise and clearly tries to change the way thrillers are made in Malayalam. But the over reliance on redundancies mars the ambition. Despite all the gripes, the film is a one-time watch. But parents please do not take your little kids along with you. This ain’t family friendly.