Director: Karthik Subbaraj
Rating: 1.5 stars (out of five)
Karthik Subbaraj's 'wordless' thriller - it isn't strictly 'silent' given the deafening din that the overwrought soundtrack generates - begins by asserting that it is a tribute to all silent films "from Raja Harishchandra to Pushpak" and their creators. Fair enough. But by the time the film reaches its final fadeout after winding its way through much obfuscating and dire darkness, it morphs into a laboured homage to "all victims of corporate greed". That, one must say, is quite a distance to traverse in less than two hours. The haste - and the ill-advised leap from one shaky thematic plank to another - obviously does no good at all.
Neither of the two above claims rings true because Mercury lacks the heft to rise to the lofty heights that it aspires for. It isn't a worthy silent film - its elimination of dialogues isn't particularly logical and, worse still, it comes at the price of occasional disorienting incomprehensibility. Nor is it a particularly relevant cinematic hat-tip to the question of corporate culpability in instances of industrial disasters. An environmentally conscious horror film?
Mercury has been written by the director himself. Karthik Subbaraj is the man who has helmed Tamil hits such as Pizza and Jigarthanda and, therefore, is regarded as somebody who possesses the Midas touch. However, there is no magic on show in this outing. Mercury is no more than a disjointed drama that uses conventions of the slasher flick and the horror film in order to spin a none-too-scary yarn that oftentimes borders on the unintentionally funny. It ventures into the territory that A Quiet Place occupies - the destructive force in Mercury turns out to be a figure that waits for the stimuli of sound to line up and pounce on its targets.
The sign language in this film frequently degenerates into exaggerated physical gestures and vocal exclamations, creating in the process the sense that silence here is only a gimmicky ruse that simply isn't intrinsic to the demands of the genre. In A Quiet Place, quietude is an integral defence mechanism for the targeted family; in Mercury, there is no real scope for developing the sound versus silence opposition in the battle for survival.
The thrills that Mercury delivers are pretty basic - a creature in a murderous rage stalks a bunch of youngsters who do not hear nor speak but one of them not only carries a music system with him but also goes out in the dark, his pals in tow, to look for an iPod that he has left behind in a deserted factory compound.
As for the shocks that one associates with the horror genre, they are conspicuous by their absence in Mercury. As a consequence, the film relies heavily on Santosh Narayanan's frenetic and persistence background score to create the creeps. The strategy does not work.
A blind malefic spirit stomps about in the abandoned factory in a hill town where 84 people were killed by mercury poisoning a quarter century ago. But that isn't why the drenched-in-blood creature (Prabhu Deva) is baying for the blood of the five deaf mutes who have arrived in the idyllic getaway nestled in the midst of tea plantations. A night ride in an SUV leads to an accident and sparks a nightmare.
A man is dragged to death by the off-roader. The only girl in the group (Indhuja) is at the wheel. She is too shaken to react. The four flustered boys with her (Sananth, Deepak Paramesh, Anish Padman and Shashank Purushotam) dump the body in a pit in the compound of the defunct factory. The victim, in all his grisly glory, returns from the dead to hound them.
The actors do their very best to look as alarmed as hapless rodents caught in a rat-trap, but as they scurry around looking for an escape route neither the reason for their sorry plight nor the precise nature of the creature that is intent on hunting them down ever becomes clear enough for the story to make sense. There is, in the climax, a feeble and contrived attempt to tie up the loose ends.
The only point of interest in the film revolves around watching Prabhu Deva operate outside his comfort zone. He does not speak, does not break into dance, and isn't part of any action set-pieces. If only he had a better written role, he just might have made an impression. But like the rest of the film, his character drifts rather aimlessly as it picks off his targets one by one. The counting game is no fun because Mercury is filmmaking by the numbers awkwardly cloaked in a larger message that alludes to many a major industrial disaster of this century.
The film itself is no mean disaster.