There are bona fide horror films that you watch with a conclusive belief that supernatural entities are real. Then there are police procedurals that unravel a mystery entirely based on science and evidence. In director Tanu Balak’s Cold Case, we witness both scenarios. A single case of a missing woman is investigated by two individuals – a TV reporter specializing in horror stories, Medha (Aditi Balan) and a suave cop Sathyajith (Prithviraj Sukumaran). If Medha is seeking answers to certain strange events happening at her residence, Sathyajith is on a hunt to trace the roots of a recently retrieved human skull.

Now Cold Case is an interesting title for the film. Besides the brutal nature of the homicide that is being investigated, the source of Medha’s fear is a refrigerator that is evidently possessed by a spirit. If she involves the services of a clairvoyant Zara (Suchitra Pillai, effective), Sathyajith chooses to disentangle the mystery with logic and intuitions. While it is never clear why a single mother like Medha would risk her life over a possible threat to her life, supercop Sathya is a sharp, straight-out-of-movielore cop who never goes wrong.

The parallel narratives offer very few surprises. Both Medha and Sathyajith are extremely smart people who always know ways to connect the dots. This habit of the leads always getting it right does not help the film’s suspense thriller narrative in any way. Cold Case employs an unimaginably straightforward storytelling format and, therefore, fails to deceive its audience.

Aditi Balan in Cold Case

Tanu Balak also sprinkles his screenplay with an array of unnecessary characters or pointless references to them. Be it Sathyajith’s supportive boss (interestingly a woman) or Medha’s godman-worshipping mother-in-law, they exist in the picture only to add excess reels. The writer also throws in a couple of characters who either stare or speak in a suspicious manner, but they do not reappear after their initial appearances. I vouch, deceiving an unassuming viewer is an art and so is scaring the daylights out of them.

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The primary disconnect for me was with respect to Medha’s intents. We subscribe to her inquisitiveness, but she does not possess a pronounced emotional arc to be invested in the search she embarks on. She never thinks about the possible threat that her actions might prove for her school-going daughter. If Medha’s part is written in an utterly plain manner with zero depth, actor Aditi Balan appears equally disinterested. I wanted to like Prithviraj, in all honesty, but here he suffers from the ‘Nayanthara Syndrome’ where his flawless makeup and styling make it impossible to take him seriously. The suspense, which you see coming from a distance, is lacklustre as it defies logic in ways only the writer could have concocted.

Suchitra Pillai in Cold Case

Among the angles that I liked in Cold Case is the presence of the clairvoyant (Pillai) and the episode of scrying. Even though infested with endless jump scares and an appallingly loud original score, her scenes establish a definitive ambience that the film otherwise lacks. The process of investigation, too, is intermittently engaging but a severe lack of twists play spoilsport in Balak’s film.

The closing scene of Cold Case involving Medha’s deceased sister hints at a prospective sequel. The second time around, I wish the writer wouldn’t divert to unnecessary characters, focus excessively on its boring (and bored) main leads, besides playing with a series of loopholes that do nothing to justify the final reveal.

Rating: ★★

Cold Case is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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