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What C U Soon says about our virtual selves

Varsha Venugopal | Updated on September 11, 2020 Published on September 10, 2020

Virtual tension: Fahadh Faasil shines as a cybersecurity expert in a psychological thriller that leverages the feeling of unease in digital relationships   -  AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

C U Soon has been hyped as a movie shot on an iPhone, but it’s way more than that — a brilliant thriller that reminds us of our isolated, digital lives

* Watch it because it is a brilliant thriller that reminds us of the way we’ve been living for the best part of the year, even as we emerge from the alienation of lockdowns.

The Fahadh Faasil-starrer C U Soon, recently premiered on Amazon Prime Video, is already a buzzword among film watchers. Directed by Mahesh Narayanan, whose debut picture Take Off garnered wide acclaim, C U Soon was heralded as a unique experiment in film-making even before its release, having been shot entirely on an iPhone. After watching the film, I realised how far that statement falls short of its achievement — the cast and crew have deftly crafted such an engaging story that one feels it is perhaps Apple that has stumbled onto a beautiful piece of press for the iPhone with C U Soon, not the other way around. A well-made thriller, this Malayalam film earns its laurels without needing to lean on the novelty of its film-making process.

The story begins in Dubai. Jimmy Kurien (Roshan Mathew) and Anumol Sebastian (Darshana Rajendran) meet on a dating app. The movie opens on a bland note, with the two making rather banal conversations as their relationship progresses from chat to video calls. It takes a while to get used to the dizzying array of boxed elements on screen — especially if, like me, you’re following the subtitles too — but we quickly adjust to it; after all, we’ve all been living digital lives since the pandemic.

Anumol shyly talks to an eager Jimmy from the cosiness of her bed, tucked under the covers. Jimmy falls head over heels in love with her, though a critical viewer would be hard-pressed to understand why — we never really see their relationship maturing beyond the awkwardness of their initial conversations. It is only when the subject of marriage comes up — implying the need for the relationship to move out of screens into tangible, real life — that we sense something is off.

Darshana has executed a masterful performance with Anumol, whose character evolves from a young girl flirting with a chance acquaintance to an agitated young woman confronting the possibility that this relationship may materialise in real life. As events unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that Anumol nurses an unspeakable secret and it is only when she disappears — leaving behind a cryptic, heartbreakingly emotional video — that Jimmy understands that he is in trouble.

I was truly immersed in the film by this point, feeling like I was on a muted video call with the cast, too. I found myself shaking my head at Jimmy’s perplexity and angst, declaring that I knew things were moving too fast for anyone’s good.

It’s at this juncture that the film hands over the reins to Faasil, who plays Jimmy’s cousin Kevin Thomas, a cybersecurity expert. It’s also the turning point where the film emerges as a taut thriller. The brash but concerned Kevin feels the stifling pressure of solving the mystery to help absolve his cousin, who by now is the prime suspect behind Anumol’s disappearance. He employs all the tricks of his trade to track her down and find out her secret. And it is here that C U Soon shines. It resists the temptation to get pedantic about the technological hacks that Kevin uses. Instead, it quickly builds up tension as a psychological thriller that leverages the feeling of unease that one feels in digital relationships void of the human touch. It’s not just Anumol’s disappearance that is disturbing; Kevin’s unstable temper, Jimmy’s naked fear of a Kafkaesque incarceration and his mother’s cold prioritisation of her son’s welfare are chilling in their own right. Music director Gopi Sundar’s background score keeps pace with the mood and narration, whether it’s the first flush of romance or the thrill of the chase.

With the story relentlessly unfolding through a series of video calls and messages, we feel acutely sensitive to split-second expressions and subtle gestures — a momentary grimace here, a sudden hardening of the eyes there, a catch in the voice. As an immersive experience, this 98-minute movie really sustains a powerful tension throughout its tale. In one instance, Jimmy’s mother brusquely hangs up, having had her say — a moment that was so startling in its abruptness that it stung like she had cut my call. These moments are particularly jarring as the visual focus of the film consists largely of close-up shots, which force an intimacy on the viewer. For instance, I had thought myself inured to graphic displays of gore and violence — there are certainly many movies more violent than C U Soon — but even the appearance of blood without the depiction of actual violence is powerfully disturbing in this format.

Faasil’s portrayal of Kevin, in particular, burns bright. The angry frustration that bubbles beneath the surface is palpable from his first appearance. C U Soon serves as the perfect canvas for him to display his ability to communicate subtle feelings through his expressions — an unmistakable flash of the eye or clenching of the jaw skilfully aligns the viewer with his emotions, taking them on his journey. The entire cast has delivered a believable performance without depending on large gestures, body language or props. In fact, it was only after the movie ended that I realised it actually had a lean cast, though I felt as if I had peeked into the lives of many people.

Don’t watch C U Soon based on the hype that it was shot on an iPhone or produced during the lockdown. Watch it because it is a brilliant thriller that reminds us of the way we’ve been living for the best part of the year, even as we emerge from the alienation of lockdowns.

Varsha Venugopal is a freelance writer based in Chennai

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Published on September 10, 2020
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