Horror has been a very on-off genre in Tamil movies, largely neglected in favour of more commercial subjects. Recently, however, there has been much cause for optimism. 2007’s Sivi laid the seeds for the slow return to the spotlight for this kind of movie, and it has been on a full bloom this year with Yaavarum Nalam, Arundhatee and the dubbed-from-Hindi Bommayi. (Not to mention Naan Aval Adhu whose promo appeared quite a while ago on TV, but is yet to be released.)

Apart from the supernatural element being common in all the aforementioned movies, the treatment of the subject has been widely different. Arundhatee (and, from the look of it, Bommayi) focused on a traditional examination of the subject using grand visual effects and bodily reincarnations to grab (and spook) the viewer with on-screen images. While Yaavarum Nalam dealt with the subject in a more subtle manner, focusing on the psychological aspects of spirits and their unfulfilled desires, instead of only spooking the viewer. Eeram firmly establishes itself in the latter category and though similar to Yaavarum Nalam (and, to a slight extent, Adhu), it is still a good horror/thriller in its own right.

As the movie opens, we see the watchman complete his rounds for the night and get ready to take a breather only to be stopped by the sound of flooding water coming from one of the upper floors. He goes to investigate it and after figuring out that it is coming from the E5 home, he knocks heavily on the door to no avail. The camera at this point moves outward. Although this is only a small sequence and plays as the opening credits are rolled on-screen, it is quite important in that it establishes the emphasis of water and how big a part it is going to play in the rest of movie.

In the next scene, we are treated to a police investigation regarding the death of Ramya Balakrishnan (Sindhu Menon) who apparently drowned herself in the bathroom tub by closing the drain hole (leading to the flooding water mentioned above). The suicide note tagged to her body states that no one is responsible for her death. (Rumours around the apartment suggest the involvement of an extra-marital relationship.) Moorthy, the officer on-hand, calls for help from his police friend Vasudevan (Aadhi), who happens to be Ramya’s one-time true love from college. Vasu takes up the case immediately after it is closed as suicide. And, from this moment, the movie moves back and forth between the past and the present.

The flashbacks focus on a lightweight college romance between Vasu and Ramya which, not surprisingly, involves love at first sight. Despite the contrived nature of the beginning of this love, there is some practicality in it and I thought there were some cute scenes, which made accepting it easier. Obviously, the plot progression involves the requirement of a split between these two – which is again clichéd with the opposing father – leading to the marriage of Ramya with Balakrishnan (Nandha).

In between all that, what we get in the present day is a standard police procedural with Vasu enquiring about the truth behind the rumours surrounding Ramya. Moorthy is highly sceptical of his friend’s motives behind pursuing a seemingly dead case and suspects it is only because of his prior romantic relationship. But, a string of more deaths of people from the same apartment forces everyone involved to rethink their perspective. Especially since water seems to be the common tool of death in all of them

Eeram has a very strong first half. The flashbacks do a decent enough job of establishing Vasu and Ramya’s characters and their relationship. This makes it easy to accept that the latter’s death could not have been a suicide and lends support to Vasu’s single-minded pursuit of disproving the same. Each of the subsequent deaths is built up very well and the usage of water in each of them is quite thrilling. However, the movie loses some of its focus in the second half.

In a movie like this, the moment of revealing the key plot point should come as late as possible, with the scenes before establishing all the suspense. Eeram does a good job with the establishment part of it in the second half in the portions depicting Ramya’s marriage life in the apartment. But, instead of closing everything quickly after the revelation, it dwells on some minor issues far too long. This effectively destroys the initial surprise one might have when everything is revealed. Not only that, the movie tries to provide a lot of cheap “boo” moments in these sequences, which only felt like concessions made by the director (not to mention that none of the them scared me one bit). Nevertheless, the director achieves a certain sense of closure at the end that, while not completely satisfying, is well worked out in the context of the movie.

Aadhi gets first billing and more of the screen time but only does an adequate job with it. He seems to have toned down from Mirugam and has a good body presence as is required when one dons the cop uniform, but when it really comes to emoting, he desperately falls short. It didn’t help that his face and voice reminded me of Vishal more than I would have wanted. Sindhu Menon is naturally the heart of the movie, since how much one likes the movie is dependent on how effective her character is. She looks very pretty in the romantic portions, and also provides a really strong performance in the sequences leading to her death, which makes the viewer sympathize with her character. Saranya Mohan is decent while Nandha, who should be seen more often, really improves upon his reputation as a strong actor.

With the importance this movie places on water, the weight of its success entirely falls on the shoulder of the cinematographer. Manoj Paramahamsa really proves his mettle and shows why he was picked by Gautham as the cameraman for his next movie. He neatly desaturates the screen during a majority of the movie (except the college portions), which is very effective, and also captures water in its various forms – flowing, still, falling as droplets – quite breathtakingly. I was really surprised to find out that the plump drummer in Boys (Thaman) was the music director for this movie. Thankfully, there is only one traditional song (in addition to another which plays in some scenes) in the movie which is very average. The background score, on the other hand, is quite effective in raising the tension at quite a few places. The art director is Rembon who impressed me very much in Subramaniapuram, and again shows his efficiency in the interior scenes especially.

Clearly, this is another winner for Shankar’s ‘S’ Pictures following the success of Kaadhal, Imsai Arasan and Veyyil. (I am ignoring the existence of the very disappointing Kallori and Arai En 305’il Kadavul.) Though it just falls short of the standard set by Yaavarum Nalam for this kind of horror/thriller, it is infinitely better than this season’s most bloated and hyped movie about a non-existent superhero.