Magnificent frames set the mood for a good mystery thriller, but a poor script leading to a shabby climax with a twist for the sake of it — in a nutshell, is Penguin — a movie which recently released on Amazon Prime Video.
After setting the premises of a mystery thriller and horror, the script fails to maintain the intensity and tension.
The story revolves around a pregnant mother Rhythm (Keerthy Suresh) who is not able to shake off the memories of her missing son. But, it fails to capture the imagination of the viewer especially those who are already exposed to this genre of films.
Director Easwar Karthik must have seen the first season of the 2014 BBC One series Missing — made by Harry and Jack Williams — a psychological thriller about a father’s years long quest to find his five-year-old son who disappeared during a family holiday in France.
In Penguin, the disappearance of Rhythm’s son leads to a break up with her husband. She remarries Goutham and is pregnant with another child. Despite having a loving and caring husband, Rhythm constantly has nightmares made up of fragmented memories including bits of information about the place where she lost her child.
Traumatised by the nightmares, Rhythm makes an unusual and dangerous trip to the place where she lost her son. The boy is found accidentally by Rhythm under mysterious circumstances. The story then moves on to her brave attempt to unravel the motive behind the son’s kidnap as that seems to be the only way to make him speak as he has not uttered a single word since getting him back.
The script, however, does not succeed in establishing a logical connection. The boy who refuses to speak is not given any professional help, speech therapy, or counselling. The mother is only trying to make him happy by giving him good food. Rhythm’s pet dog Cyrus plays a significant role, possibly more significant than any male character in the movie.
The name of the movie is good enough to arouse curiosity, but the director’s deliberate attempt to make a connection sticks out like a sore thumb. Even as penguins look cute and cuddly, it is generally believed that they have the habit of kidnapping other penguin’s chicks.
The film starts with Rhythm narrating a story to young Ajay about a penguin kidnapping another penguin’s baby. Narrating this story to a two year old seems awkward: which mother would want to tell her two-year-old a depressing story that has the potential to affect the child psychologically? Worse, this story is a spoiler as it alerts the viewer to the climax. Any one paying close attention can guess who the kidnapper is.
Indian cinema cannot do without racist stereotypes, it seems. A serial killer enjoying the cry of victims cannot be anyone else but a black. He needs no reasons to justify himself. On the other hand, the fair skinned person has strong and cogent reasons for becoming a kidnapper. There is an attempt at justification even if it means tampering with the character.
The sequences of Rhythm’s dreams that set the premise of the story are well made with beautiful frames giving a chilling view. The opening shots of an manned dark forest in which the boy, Ajay, walks towards the tombstone of the “mother of nature,” his meeting with a mysterious character in the form of a person wearing a mask resembling Charlie Chaplin and him disappearing into a pond with a yellow umbrella giving the impression that the child is killed — set the mood for a horror story, but the script slacks as the story unravels.
Why does this mask-wearing kidnapper appear in her nightmares? Does she have any other information about him? The investigation is poorly executed with no convincing detailing. However, Rhythm firmly believes her child is not dead despite suggestions from the police that he may be no more.
Karthic Palani’s cinematography goes well with the mood of the movie, capturing the enchanting beauty of Ooty and Kodaikanal, making this element worth a watch.