In 9, Jenuse Mohamed invites viewers into his visually amazing but thematically shallow cinematic landscape where the dialogues work like a broken record, twists look like a series of afterthought and mysteries feel like they are better left unresolved. As if caught in a wild trance induced by an equally violent background score, the film leaps up, sways back and forth, gnaws on complex topics way out of its league before making an unconvincing landing.
The film follows the relationship between Albert Lewis (Prithviraj) an Astrophysicist and his son Adam as they brace themselves for 9 days of inconveniences caused by a comet flying too close to planet earth. Prithviraj is very convincing both as the scientist and protective father. But it’s the one dimensional character development and explosive narrative exposition that really lets him down, leaving him not much in the way of nuances. Prakash Raj plays Doctor Inyath Khan who sounds like a less sinister sounding version of Bane from Batman rises. The condescending tone of narrative exposition in the beginning made me feel like I was watching an ISRO project aimed at introducing the Sci-fi shy Malayalees to the newly discovered marvels of science.
9 presents a visual vocabulary that will at once invoke in you a sense of childlike awe, and chilling dread. But there is a volcanic presence of eerie music simmering underneath every frame just to make sure you know what you’re watching, should you get too comfortable with the breathtaking beauty of comet trail and starry night. At no point in its running time does it give you so much as a breather, let alone a meditative moment. Likewise, the characters along with the audience are reduced to treading on thin surface that appears to be under constant bombardment of an alien-led orchestra. To say the film is heavy handed with music would be an understatement.
9 does not suffer so much from being derivative as it does from its background music. With his BGM overkill, the music director Sekhar Menon seems licensed to overfeed and cripple the imagination of audience. The big idea is to shock and awe audience by a cacophony of deafening trills as opposed to affording them moments of quiet reflection unique to good mystery thrillers. And he does it with the unjustifiable vengeance, if not clumsiness, of Hulk on the rampage in a large city. Apparently, some reports have likened his work to that of Hans Zimmer. I like Hans simmer. Though he’s prone to over kill at times, he wields a peculiar control over his craft and does so with an economy that is mostly in harmony with the mounting narrative tension. Here, the relentless music by contrast could neither serve as red herring, nor effectively dramatize the plot elements.
It will be hardly surprising if 9 is lauded as a Malayalam movie’s biggest yet reach for the sci-fi stratosphere. While the movie may find takers among audience with little to no sci-fi temperament, it will surely be trashed by viewers who are blase about similar movies. It is one of those movies whose superficially woven together inner workings run counter to its ambitious efforts in tackling various complex themes. The result is a film that is at its core neither a proper sci-fi nor a compelling mystery. A movie that plays out like a passionate but half-baked work of a scatterbrained director. 9 is as much a testament to his mystifying imagination as it is to his ambition. But at the end it transmogrified into a sappy exercise in exploring father son relationship that for all its relentless tension and self-introspection, failed to do the most basic cinema thing: that is to generate empathy.
In the mainstream cinema space, it is the norm to ridicule directors when their movies are deemed too experimental, and by the same token these directors are criticized when their movies are considered to be devoid of creativity. Well, With 9, Jenuse Mohamed went all out with his creative guns blazing, not willing to water down his vision to please either gang. And here’s a young director who is not interested in making an okay movie; a wild one who is not ready to take a middle ground. Awe-inspiring as it was to see the young director fulfil his personal vision with technical finesse, it was equally disappointing to see an overwrought screenplay crumble under its elaborate trappings of mystery/sci-fi/thriller.