Film Review: Mercury

Five friends are stalked in this dialogue-free, non-musical Indian film that combines horror conventions with a pointed message about toxic waste.
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Close friends since high school, a girl, her boyfriend and three other male friends meet up at their high-school reunion; all five, it ensues, are both deaf and mute. They later head back to her place, where they dance and hang out with her good-natured father, who's happy to host all of them. The following day, they go for a drive in her car on a winding, isolated country road, where they have an accident after striking a discarded length of chair and discover a man's bloodied body.

The friends impulsively decide to hide the corpse, presumably from fear of being accused of having killed him. They dump it in a ravine near the shuttered Corporate Earth chemical plant—which was abandoned after a mercury-related accident that killed 84 local residents and caused the classmates to lose their hearing and speech—concealing the man beneath a layer of leaves and logs. But the next day one boy realizes he's lost his cellphone, so they return. The phone is found, but when the boys return to the car, their female friend is gone and there's a message scrawled on the window in what looks like blood.

The rest of the film unfolds within the deteriorating plant, where they search for the girl; it's a warren of precarious catwalks, hanging chains, dust-covered workstations and empty lockers…empty except for the one containing the missing corpse. And then the mayhem begins, as the boys are stalked by what appears to be the reanimated dead man, blind but possessed of exceptional hearing.

Karthik Subbaraj's thriller/horror film—which is dedicated to silent filmmakers—contains several genuinely suspenseful sequences reminiscent of Fede Alvarez's acclaimed 2016 Don't Breathe and of ’70s gialli in general, especially in the eerily colored washes of light and the labyrinthine gloom of the plant's layout. And it's hard to fault the filmmakers’ closing dedication to "victims of corporate greed" that puts profit ahead of human life and health. And while it's not totally silent—it benefits from an effective score by by Santhosh Narayanan and Kunal Rajan's sound design—silent films weren't originally shown silent either; they were accompanied by music.

Mercury was inspired by a 2001 mercury poisoning scandal in Kodaikanal, India, but the closing credits invoke other manmade disasters, including incidents in Bhopal, India (1984) and Minimata, Japan (1956). That said, horror movies such as The Crazies, Spawn of the Slithis, Prophecy, Warning Sign and The Bay have delivered similar messages, to limited effect.

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