NIZHALKUTHU / SHADOW KILL (Dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 2002, India)


Grimness evades the essence of this quasi-horror film recalling the disquieting ugliness caught wholly in Kieslowski’s A Short film about Killing, a haunting tale about the dreads of capital punishment. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s 2001 film Shadow Kill examines the story of an executioner (Oduvil Unnikrishnan) in British colonial India suffering from the insurmountable crises of guilt, loyalty and death. Rituals dominate in what is an exercise in non-linear subjectivity as the story of the servile executioner collides with the swadeshi politics of his son, a Gandhi convert. One such ritual is the physical and symbolic entity of the rope, politicising the narrative with a multiplicity, framing the creation of the rope by prisoners, and later appropriated for superstitious intents by the executioner as a kind of religious science. The film enters a terrifying domain in the last third when a jailer tells the story of the rape of a young girl, filtered through the horrific imaginings of the executioner, culminating in the suggestion the boy about to be hanged is in fact innocent. Gopalakrishnan is a master at evoking and sustaining mood, an authorial instinct which he has repeatedly returned to in many of his best films. While melodrama is a salient genre marker, horror seems almost an unlikely category until you recognise the iconography of death lingers portentously throughout this primordial tale of woe.

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