Filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj's Mercury releases at an unfortunate time. The movie will only be compared to Hollywood film, A Quiet Place, with which it shares plot similarities. The latter has also become critics' darling over the past one week. Karthik teams up with Prabhudheva for this horror film, which is wrongly being promoted as a 'thriller.' The teaser and very recently released trailer of Mercury are impressive and can definitely draw a horror fan to the theatres. But is it worth spending those two hours on? Here is what I think...
What's it about
A set of five deaf-and mute friends find themselves being picked up and killed one by one a blind-and-mute Prabhudheva over the course of one night. The playground for this massacre is an old warehouse, which has been abandoned for years after a mercury poisoning disaster. Ironically, the characters in the story are all connected to that same tragedy which occurred years ago, in one way or the other. I want to tell you more but it would be spoiling the fun.
I have to give a huge round of applause for the exceptionally brilliant technical department of the film. The five main characters might be deaf, there might be zero dialogues in the film, but the background score has been used to its full potential and how! The movie strikes a perfect balance between the presence of sound and the lack thereof. Pieces of glass crunching under the feet, tyres screeching, speakers blaring out a song, clinking metal pieces, dripping water - the cacophony is in perfect tandem and that, too, induces horror. The movie is high on atmospheric tension and the sound department has a big role to play in it. The background score is exceptionally haunting. Santhosh Narayanan has done an incredible job.
Then there is Tirru's charismatic camera work. He matches the perfection of the sound design with the finesse of his camera angles. We have seen two of the remarkable shots in the trailer - Prabhudheva walking into a tilted frame and the upside down view of protagonists looking over a hill. But the money shot is the climax. What a brilliant example of badass cinematography! The climactic shot is one of the best we have seen in Indian cinema. And I honestly can watch it a thousand times. If only I could skip the previous parts of the movie. There is also a long single-shot scene that will send a chill down your spine. The camera work is creepy AF.
The five main characters only talk to each other in the sign language and somehow we understand pretty much everything that they are conveying. I don't know if their sign language is technically correct but the delivery of the message without using words left me impressed. Speaking of the five differently-abled characters, they have been played by five very able actors. Indhuja, the only female actor in the movie, impresses. You can actually feel the helplessness of the characters. Prabhudheva's scary act also manages to stun.
For all the above-mentioned points, a big chunk of credit goes to director Karthik Subbaraj. He has also written the film and done a good job in the first half. The movie takes its sweet time to develop the plot. In fact, it takes the entire first half to do so. But with characters who don't utter a single dialogue, it must have been a tedious task. The long first half also helps the viewers understand better how the five deaf characters see the world.
The movie might be a technical marvel but the script is so faulty that you won't be able to digest what it turns out to be by the end. Logic is a tricky thing when it comes to horror. Filmmakers need to know where to draw the line. For instance, Don't Breathe - which has a very similar premise - might be a great horror film but, boy, it did have its logical flaws too! The antagonist's house is the only one inhabited in the entire vicinity in Don't Breathe? How come the police did not find the missing girl in the basement despite the antagonist being the most obvious connection? Illogical, but that is where the makers drew the line in Don't Breathe. Imagine if they had given the villain superpowers. Now that would be ridiculous, right? This is exactly what Mercury does. It takes away from its villain even the remote scope of being realistic.
It takes unimaginable liberty by dwelling in the horror space. One of the main characters goes missing for a good portion of the film and is thrown back into the narrative suddenly and we are expected to be okay with it. We are never shown what happened to the character while they were missing. There are many other loopholes in the script that led to the downfall of this horror film. We never learn a lot of things that are very important to drive the plot. With a movie that over-explains the climax, it did leave quite a few loose ends in the middle.
As the end of the film nears, things go from bad to worse. It is the most flimsy attempt to give the villain an emotional backstory. The whole silent horror part goes for a toss as the film tries to give its antagonist a purpose and a last wish. After making the movie reach its boiling point, the makers immediately dip the Mercury into ice cold water. Yes, it all goes downhill from there.
Two things this movie gets terribly wrong is what it pays tributes to. At the beginning of the movie, the makers dedicate Mercury to all the silent films - from Raja Harishchandra to Pushpak. But this movie is hardly a part of that genre as 'sound' is a very integral part of the film. Just making the characters communicate in sign language throughout doesn't make this a tribute to silent films. Then, at the end of the movie, makers dedicate it to all the victims of industrial disasters like Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Hailing from Bhopal myself, I feel offended. I absolutely hate the fact that the movie even tries to take this high road. The industrial disaster in the film plays zero part in the narrative, except for making the antagonist a victim of one. You want to go ahead and even make a zombie movie and exploit a disaster like Bhopal Gas Tragedy - I am cool with it. But don't go around dedicating that zombie movie to the actual victims of the tragedy. It is the same as Ram Gopal Verma dedicating Bhoot to all the people finding it difficult to score an affordable house in Mumbai.
You should definitely check out the movie for its excellence in the technical department. It becomes your average run-of-the-mill Bollywood horror film, pretty quickly though. With a flimsy plot, Mercury falters at many points.
2.5 out of 5
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