‘Memories’ review: Total Recall

LICH rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

They say that the human brain, when overwhelmed with the task of processing and storing extremely traumatic events, does the opposite—it casts an amnesiac shadow over the tempest, creating a slot that’s numbed into a haze to ease the pain. But when you’re faced with just the opposite and cursed with total recall of a horrifying incident, what do you do? In the 2013 Malayalam thriller Memories, Police officer Sam Alex (Prithviraj Sukumaran) leans heavily on that time-tested implement who’s most common and fitting description is ‘drowning one’s sorrows’.

Prithiviraj's Sam Alex believes in conservation
Prithiviraj’s Sam Alex believes in conservation.

You know things weren’t always so dark (and soda) with Sam because the opening credits—set to tight bass and drum pieces in the title song composed by Sejo John—show Sam and team in a late night raid at a hideout that freezes a compelling flying-out-of-a-top-floor shot. It’s here that you also get a hint of the residual danger this attack leaves behind. Cut to three years later and there’s a series of kidnappings and murders , the bodies left for public display in a manner most grotesque, and SP Vinod Krishna (Suresh Krishna, terrific in a jealous, suave act) is left fumbling with limited guesswork as to the motives and the killers’ identity, and if these killings are connected at all. To make life worse for Krishna, he’s fenced in by journalist Varsha Mathews (Miya) on one side and his boss, IG Aravindhaksha Menon (Vijayaraghavan, natural and completely underplaying his authority and his support for Sam) on the other.

Prithviraj and Miya are benched by the killings
Prithviraj and Miya are benched by the killings.

In the meantime, Sam has let liquor chart his life’s walk, much to mother Marykutty’s (the superb Vanitha Krishnachandran, her dignified veneer a see-through mask of her maternal worries) chagrin. Writer-director Jeethu Joseph (who would go on to later make the crackling  mystery thriller Drishyam) keeps the family drama terse and effective, adding Sam’s estranged brother Sanju (Rahul Madhav) to the mix. All of this makes for some underplayed yet charged scenes, with the local priest Father John acting as a salve to the relational wounds; Nedumudi Venu, playing the priest, fills his eyes with such affection and kindness, it’s hard not to feel soothed. It’s only a matter of time that IG Menon does some keen out-of-the-box thinking and gets in Sam to solve the murders, even if the latter doesn’t bother to mask his love for the flask.

Prithivraj and Vanitha Krishnachandran keep the emotions underplayed.jpg
Prithivraj and Vanitha Krishnachandran keep the emotions underplayed.

Memories plays out tautly even as it knits in emotional turbulence that adds layers to the story—and not just Sam’s, but even the unknown killer’s, as director Joseph gets in strands of their pasts that neither can or wants to forget, throwing a torchlight on why each one lives and makes choices the way they do. The movie, evenly paced with bursts of suspense and tension, doffs its hat to Agatha Christie and Dan Brown, the clues tantalizing you, but never quite enough for you to second-guess what’s coming next.

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 7.12.20 PM
Detective work can be (d)raining. 

The movie’s biggest pleasure, however, lies in the subtle undercurrents that Joseph sparks. The scene, for instance, where Menon gets a call from Sam about a dead-end, and sitting across him is Krishna, unhappy that Sam’s been brought in to solve the case. A flicker of triumph plays on Krishna’s face that Menon catches and kills with his flicker of disapproval, all while on the phone. Or, the scene where Sam walks into a room and the director tantalizes you with the possibility of revealing the killer—there are three people in the room and the camera pans across them and you gasp at the first face you catch, and then wonder if it’s the other two. That is the director working the possibility of a cinematic red herring on you.

What makes Memories so effective is Prithviraj’s act of self-destruction and hopelessness. His demeanor is hauntingly haggard, the dark circles under his eyes painting their own story of pain and angst. The actor plays his seemingly redemptionless character with a quiet knowing of his craft, subducting his roiling memories for everyone onscreen but magically baring his soul to you. His character doesn’t have a care in the world so long as he’s got the poison in his hip flask. The actor doesn’t seem to care about the frame or his pacing either. He takes his time in every shot, it’s up to the camera to decide how much and what to capture. His languorous don’t-care-attitude sways along even in a cracker of a funny scene in a chips and wafer store, the joke for you to pick up and guffaw. Elsewhere,  watch him in a tense foot chase in heavy rain—the background score by Anil Johnson throbbing with tension here and all across the movie—and then as his liver acts up, crumble to pay the price of his addiction—he’s terrific. And when his hands uncontrollably tremble as he holds his gun, it’s director Joseph’s sly, social reminder that drinking to forget offsets one trauma, albeit temporarily, to create another that’s far more visceral.

 LICH ratings chart
1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Memories (2013) on IMDb

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Memories is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s intense sequences, some gore, and lots of drinking.

Director Jeethu Joseph Running Time 2h 12min
Writer Jeethu Joseph
Stars Prithviraj Sukumaran, Suresh Krishna, Vijayaraghavan, Vanitha Krishnachandran, Miya, S.P. Sreekumar
Genres  Mystery, Thriller

Watch the trailer of Memories here: