Irul has the performances to give its lean setup some power, but the twisty-turny plot requires some contrivances and a suspension of disbelief that burdens the second half.
This review of Irul is spoiler-free.
Irul is an actor’s showcase. Director Naseef Yusuf Izuddhin has assembled a triple-threat superstar tag-team of Malayalam actors to play the three characters in this lean whodunit, which predominantly takes place in a well-appointed house that at first acts like a port in a storm and morphs quickly into a nest of horrors. It’s a classic setup with a very compelling first half, but it, unfortunately, sags from the middle all the way to the end thanks to the overreaching of its twisty-turny script, credited primarily to Sunil Yadav but with four additional adaptation credits.
The setup is as simple as this: Alex (Soubin Shahir), an author, tries to sneak some quality time with his partner, Archana (Darshana Rajendran), by whisking her away on a phone-free weekend retreat shortly after the publication of his first book, Irul. Naturally, the getaway is curtailed by their car breaking down, forcing them to seek shelter in a house in the middle of nowhere that contains a stranger, Unni (Fahadh Faasil, tremendous), who quickly lets on that he knows more than seems reasonable about the serial killer depicted in Alex’s book.
The question rapidly becomes whether Unni is the killer of women Alex wrote about, or whether Alex himself is, and the film bends over backward to ensure that the audience suspects both in about equal measure. This naturally requires some contrivances, some out-of-character behaviors, and some not terribly sensible plotting to gird the guessing game, and the obvious artificiality can become tiresome. For the most part, though, the essential human impulse to seek the answer to a question will keep you engaged, as will the three lead performances, which probably deserve a better justification than the one Irul ultimately gives them.
There’s a fine line between keeping a story intriguing and obviously taking shortcuts to manufacture unearned suspense and mystery, and it’s a line that Irul crosses more than once. But away from its writing, the technical aspects work well; the cinematography complements the performances with excellent manipulation of the single location’s advantages and limitations, and the sound work is deployed well in the odd shock or keening bit of tension. Irul runs out of steam in its second half, but it’s more or less worth sticking with for an unusually morbid ending that offers a note of finality to a script that tries to be too clever for its own good.