What goes in a serial killer’s mind? Why would one kill multiple human beings? And why would the killer dismember the body? Is it only due to vengeance? Or is it something far more sinister, like the abyss of darkness that lies in the uncharted depths of the human mind? In asking these questions, Naseef Yusuf Izuddin’s directorial debut ‘Irul’ sets itself apart from other whodunit suspense thrillers through a narrative of immense intrigue and dense visuals. With most of the story taking place in an old mansion, the camera closes in on the characters and the chiaroscuro helps in creating an ambiance of suspicion and disbelief.
Soubin Shahir, Fahadh Faasil, (both of whom have previously acted together in films like ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ and ‘Maheshinte Prathikaaram’) and Darshana Rajendran play their parts brilliantly, and without their combined energy, much of the cultivated tension of the thriller would fall flat. As the cerebral journey comes to an end, the truth gets blurred in a vortex of lies, and the finality would leave you speechless in its element of surprise. If you cannot get your mind around the ending of ‘Irul,’ we shall try to decode it for you. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Irul Plot Synopsis
Alex wakes up from a nightmare. On his way to the office, he calls his new girlfriend, Archana. After office, he waits at a bookstore for his girlfriend to arrive. As an employee of the store approaches Alex for a signature on a copy of his latest crime fiction, ‘Irul,’ the audience gets to know that he is an author. Archana arrives a little late, and they go to an artsy café afterward. Archana has not yet read Alex’s book, and she probably never will.
Archana is a practicing lawyer busy with her clients on a phone call, and Alex is irritated. He gets up and leaves. Archana calls Alex later at night, and Alex expresses his discontentment about Archana always staying on the phone, but Archana points towards her professional duties as a lawyer, which she cannot neglect. However, Alex manages to persuade Archana to go on a trip without taking any cell phones with them. He also states that he has a surprise for Archana, but he cannot say anything more than that. The surprise, however, is not quite what he wants it to be.
In the next scene, their car winds up the serpentine hill road. Seen from the divine perspective of a drone, the road perhaps represents Alex’s labyrinthian, authorial mind. It is apparently a long drive, and as a rainy night descends on them, the car breaks down. On top of it, they have decided against bringing their cell phones, so Alex can’t even call a mechanic.
However, there is a house nearby, and they decide to take shelter there. Archana knocks and Alex looks for the keys, and when they have almost given up, a suave but suspicious-looking guy opens the door. Archana asks whether they can use the phone, but the guy has no lines of communication in the house. He does not have a mobile phone, and the dusty landline is seemingly dead.
The suspicious guy, Unni, manages to keep the guests entertained. The night rolls on with drunken reveries, but hidden tension lies under the apparent garb of witty conversations. Unni claims to have read Alex’s book but admits that he did not like Alex’s portrayal of the serial killer. The light suddenly goes out and Alex and Unni head towards the basement to have a look at the meter box.
What they see down in the basement turns the story upside down. There is a hanging body that has potentially been killed by the same serial killer that Alex has written about as it matches the description of previously found bodies. Unni is sure that Alex is the serial killer of his novel, while Alex claims that Unni is the killer. As the whodunit mystery develops, a cat and mouse chase ensues and gradually, the story turns on its head.
Irul Ending: Who is the Serial Killer?
This is the question that likely bugs the audience throughout the film. As the narrative, stylized like a David Fincher film, unfolds, it becomes clear that the whole story is built around the mystery of the serial killer’s identity. In exploring the truth, the film tries to persuade the audiences through visual cues, toying with their minds. Alex has written a true crime fiction in Malayalam called ‘Irul,’ which essentially translates to “darkness.”
As the film explores the darkness hidden in the depths of the human mind, symbolized through the dingy basement, it also makes the darkness ooze through the screen by effective and minimal use of light, creating an aura of suspicion. Alex’s subject has killed five people so far, all women, and Alex thinks the killer has a motif of vengeance towards women. The killer, we are told, used to cut up the body in places. The mysterious guy has more insights into the serial killer’s mind than Alex, as he thinks curiosity to be a better motif than vengeance.
While Alex relies on research and imagination to create his fictional truth, Unni, the other guy, holds experience to be the progenitor of all art. A fresh body is found in the basement of the house, which plunges the audience into the vortex of suspicion. Truth gets distorted in multiple narratives, and the story is woven in a way that the audience would suspect both Alex and the mysterious guy, Unni.
As the audience finds out that Alex has a phone and Unni claims to be a petty thief, the story seemingly turns upside down. In the final exposition, a frenzied Archana kills Alex, but as Unni periphrastically says that he is the truth Alex was looking for, we become sure that he is the serial killer and not Alex. The audience would have perhaps anticipated him as the killer, but as the subject proves to be a better author than the author himself, the audience is compelled to suspend the belief for a long while.
What is Alex’s Surprise?
Alex tells Archana that he has been arranging a surprise for her. As the car breaks down in the middle of a hill station on a rainy night, it feels that the possibility of any surprise is botched at the outset. They take shelter at a seeming stranger’s house. But as the story progresses, we get to know that the house is Alex’s own property, although it is not clear how exactly Alex’s car stops working at the very opportune moment when they arrive in front of the house.
Later in the film, Alex admits to his plan of proposing to Archana and he shows her the ring. However, when Unni discloses six similar engagement rings that he confessedly came to steal, Archana’s mind, as well as the audience’s, connects it immediately to the six killings. Alex’s surprise is finally the inability of surprise itself, as all roads lead to the finality of a destined death of the author.
Did The Killer Plan His Visit or Was the Encounter Coincidental?
Unni claims that he has read Alex’s ‘Irul.’ This is not surprising since all serial killers are expressively narcissistic, and a notorious but evasive killer like Unni would not be able to overcome the temptation of reading a book based on his crimes. As the audience gets insight into his character, he shows traits of cunning intelligence and deceptive genius.
As we have seen, he is also an assertive person who does not make an uncalculated move. But Unni also opines that he has found the murderer in Alex’s story lacking in depth, as the motive behind the murders is not clearly expressed in the novel. He suggests that the motive behind the murders can be something as simple as sheer curiosity.
We get to know that he has broken into the home a few hours before the arrival of the duo. It can very well be that after finding the character in the novel uninteresting, a sadistic Unni had planned to frame Alex for the murders. Maybe that is why he has hidden the body in the basement. But as Alex and Archana reach the place, the plan goes haywire and the killer is forced to improvise a plot to pit Archana against Alex.
Does Archana Die?
In the final moments of the film, Archana freaks out and shoots Alex in the belly, in consequence killing him. The wine in Archana’s hand in the early segments of the film perhaps anticipates this final act of betrayal through a symbolic suggestion. As Unni comes creeping behind Archana, Alex pleads to her to run but before she would realize her mistake, it would be too late.
The final scene of the film shows the exterior of the house as a gunshot is heard. It is most likely Archana, but the audience cannot be sure. However, when the following news clip provides them with the information of the discovery of three bodies from the mansion, including one male and two females, it becomes apparent that Archana is killed.
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