Today’s journey Around the World with Netflix lets us see how an Indian team approaches the classic “three hander,” the time-worn stagebound thriller with only three principal characters.
“Irul” is a chatty, twisty and overwrought “dark and stormy night” tale that almost drowns in its cornball theatricality. But like all such tales, it can be fascinating in the ways a different culture approaches dramatic conventions and claustrophobic screenplay problem solving.
Soubin Shahir is Alex, a novelist with a hit murder mystery on the shelves. Darshana Rajendran is Archana, his steady date, a big time lawyer who is addicted to her cell phone.
One dinner date interrupted by an endless succession of calls later, she lets him guilt her into a weekend getaway. “No cell phones,” he decrees, and she agrees (in Malayam with English subtitles, or dubbed).
Then that “dark and stormy night” sets in, the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere on a stunningly scenic and twisty mountain road that “Top Gear” and “The Grand Tour” should take note of. Nothing for it but to hike to a nearby mansion in the downpour and call for help.
Nobody answers the pounding on the door, or the ringing doorbell. They’re all but resigned to look for a Plan C when a tall man (Fahadh Faasil), answers, dramatically sucking down cigarettes in his elegant bathrobe.
Got a cell? A landline? Can we use it? What’s your name?
“As your host, I reserve the right to ask questions!” And no, the land line is down and “I don’t believe in cell phones.
“How convenient,” our couple must wonder — in Malayam or English or any language where common sense and theatrical conventions are spoken.
Let the evening’s intrigues begin. The power goes out, as does the cork.
“In vino veritas,” the shady host purrs as he pours out a little truth serum.
Damned if he doesn’t know Alex’s book. And before you know it, we’re in a heated discussion of serial killing, justice, “facts” vs. “truth” and lawyers — “who convert lies to truth for a living.”
Game on? What’s everybody hiding?
The incessant dialogue, dithering through the obvious, is wearing and the first sign this movie isn’t going to amount to much. Rajendran’s Archana is forced to blabber away constantly, and in the most inane way.
Car’s broken down, “Alex, should we call for help?” YA THINK?
Things go further awry, “Alex, should we call the police.” “Alex, we should DO something!” “Alex!” “ALEX!” “ALEX!”
Is she worried she or the viewer will forget the protagonist’s name?
The chatter doesn’t paper over the logical holes in the script, the far-fetched spin on a most conventional plot set up. Anything that we don’t see coming in this story trips us up because it is the least logical solution to the mystery placed before us, as in “That’s ridiculous.”
And the coda is downright laughable.
Still, there’s enough here that “Irul,” which means “darkness,” would be a fun, moody movie for a screenwriting class to pick apart and try to workshop into something better.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, violence
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Soubin Shahir, Darshana Rajendran
Credits: Directed by Naseef Yusuf Izuddin, script by Sunil Yadav, Naseef Yusuf Izuddin, Obeth S. Thomas, Anaz Bin Ibrahim and Abhiram Pothuval. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:31