Penguin is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Penguin movie cast: Keerthy Suresh, Linga, Advaith
Penguin movie director: Eashvar Karthic
Penguin movie rating: 1.5 stars
A little boy goes missing, leaving his permanently scarred mother, and full of blame-and-bluster father living with the pain of not knowing what happened. A long investigation yields nothing but scraps of clothing, blood-stains, and flashes of a masked Charlie Chaplin like figure: is he responsible for the child’s disappearance?
Penguin, set in the sylvan surroundings of Kodaikanal, uses the area’s natural beauty to underscore the ugliness of humans. It is the way of noir murder-mysteries roll, and the film begins with suitable menace. Swelling music, dark woods, bleeding-to-death men, a series of missing children. And Rhythm (Suresh) rebuilding her life with a second husband, and pregnant with her second child, who will not give up looking for her first, Ajay.
But much too soon, Penguin slides into a oh-please-that-can’t-be-happening territory. Suresh, who looks as if she could underplay well, and does just that to begin with, quickly slides into scrunched-face breathlessness as her first reaction to anything untoward happening. The former and current spouses collide awkwardly. A mute young boy shows up, in a very Truffaut ‘The Wild Child’ touch: why does he stay silent? Why are there so many scars on his body? His doctor launches into gobbledygook explanations, and from here on, it’s all quite ludicrous.
Only in films featuring masked killers will potential victims wander around, just waiting to be pounced on. Who in their right minds would career around deep jungles, especially a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy, who has been on edge all these years because of her missing child? Suresh tries to make the best of a bad job, and is quite a sight when squaring up to monsters, but the proceedings let her down.
Fans of blood and gore may find some solace in some places: a long sequence in an abattoir-like room, bathed in blood-red light, leaking dead human parts and sharp weapons and a crazed killer, seems straight out of chopped-flesh Hollywood whodunits. But the grisly bits do not add up to much when the plot is so weak and takes so long to get to the point.