Although Connect starts strongly, it sparingly hits the high notes of the genre while just about managing past the finish line
From what we’ve seen of Ashwin Saravanan, it is clear that the filmmaker doesn’t really go for the low-hanging fruits when making genre films. In his fascinating debut, Maya, the addition of the ‘movie within a movie’ trope made it all the more interesting. Similarly, in his intriguing sophomore, Game Over, the ‘you are not playing the game, you are the game’ trope made it all the more engaging. So, one can’t really be faulted for expecting his latest, Connect, to be more than just an exercise in exorcism. Although Connect starts strongly with a bright tale freefalling into the depths of darkness, courtesy of the pandemic, the film sparingly hits the high notes of the genre while just about managing past the finish line.
Director: Ashwin Saravanan
Cast: Nayanthara, Vinay Rai, Sathyaraj, Nafisa Haniya
Ashwin introduces the protagonists —a lived-in couple Susan (Nayanthara) and Joseph (Vinay Rai), their daughter Anna (Haniya Nafisa), and Susan’s father Arthur (Sathyaraj)— on a holiday, with a breezy song, which betrays a sense of melancholy. We are just a day or two ahead of the nationwide lockdown, and Joseph is a doctor who is asked to return to the hospital to take care of the never-ending crowd of patients. Tragedy strikes the family as Joseph joins the list of the many frontline workers who sacrificed their lives for the safety of the world. An already strained equation between Susan and Anna becomes even worse, and then, we start dealing with a heady mix of seances, possessions, purgations, and of course, exorcisms.
There is no doubt that the buildup to the exorcism in Connect boasts of a few effective scares. It might not be the ones that make us watch the film through our fingers, but it definitely does enough to keep us on the edge of our seats. Even though the type of scares and the timing of it too feel predictable, the usage of electronic screens allows editing transitions to be a novel affair. Whenever the screen goes to pitch black, or the internet connection goes cold and the screen starts buffering, there is a definite increase in adrenaline. Although, we have seen this style of narrative in films like Searching, and C U Soon, Ashwin and his team smartly find a way around the compact nature of the medium to give us a non-claustrophobic feeling. While this does rob us of the tension that pervades through such films, Connect tries its best to achieve this with a constant tussle between the idea of loneliness and seeking help.
Be it in Naane Varuvean earlier this year or Connect, it is interesting how therapy and not exorcism is the first step towards helping the child in trouble. What happens after therapy might not fit into the rationale of scientific thinking, but the normalisation of the treatment is a pertinent reflection of the changing times. Even the Father who comes for a diagnosis of Anna’s predicament says the illness could be one that requires therapy or one that requires a spiritual intervention. However, the film falters a lot when it comes to establishing the urgency of the possession and its after-effects. Surprisingly, Connect really works on the comedy front, and full points for mixing a few laughs amidst all those scares without becoming yet another ‘horror-comedy’ film that is churned out dime-a-dozen from Tamil cinema.
This disconnect stems from the rather stilted acceptance of Susan about the turmoil in her life after the possession of her daughter. Nayanthara plays Susan with an alarming lack of urgency that is so disconcerting. How does she not feel petrified every living moment after seeing her daughter do demonic things? How does she not feel shaken to her core after being ‘chokeslammed’ by her daughter? The emotional distance between us and Susan is perplexing, and it is odd that even Anna’s predicament doesn’t really move us. We are invested in the scares and not the ones who are going through literal horrors. And even the immersive cinematography (Manikantan Krishnamachary), spine-chilling music (Prithvi Chandrasekhar), and brilliant sound design doesn’t help us throw all our weight behind the travails of Susan and Anna.
Connect really feels underwhelming simply because Ashwin, and his co-writer Kaavya Ramkumar, have set the bar really high. The film is underwhelming because we have seen the beats before, and yet our heart anticipates much more. At one point, early in the film, when we see frontline workers making the ultimate sacrifice, one can’t help but think how a lot of them have been almost forgotten now by the majority. We have so adapted to the post-pandemic world that Connect almost feels like Ashwin and Kaavya reminding us of a rather grim time in the not-so-faraway past of human history. With a brief sojourn into the idea of loneliness, Connect really works in the space where it nudges us to reflect on our own lives during the pandemic. However, when it comes to the horror elements, Connect betrays a sense of superficiality. There is a considerable amount of spook, and a sense of ingenuity, for sure, but Ashwin Saravanan has raised the bar to a decent high that we don’t walk into his films just to be satisfied for a few frights, some gimmicks, and half a heart.
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