Manu Warrier’s Kuruthi dips into the conventions of the home invasion film, the hostage drama, and the horror movie to concoct what can only be described as a religious thriller.

A Hindu fundamentalist who has killed a shopkeeper and Muslim radicals bent on revenge confront each other, with a family of moderate Muslims and a Hindu neighbour and a police officer in between. Ibrahim (Roshan Mathew), his father Moosa (Mamukkoya) and younger brother Rasool (Naslen) are going about their business when policeman Sathyan (Murali Gopy) barges in with the prisoner Vishnu in tow and proceeds to use their home as a refuge for the night.

The hostage crisis morphs into a home invasion with the arrival of Ibrahim’s friend Kareem (Shine Tom Chacko) and the sinister Laiq (Prithviraj Sukumaran). Let us deal with Vishnu as we see fit, they tell Sathyan and Ibrahim. The neighbour Suma (Srindaa), who enters the scene just around that moment, becomes a part of the mix.

The tense standoff relents every now and then to indulge in ideological debates about morality, righteous vengeance, the roots of fundamentalism, and the true meaning of faith. Vishnu (Sagar Surya) is unapologetic about his crime, which irks an already semi-radicalised Rasool. Laiq reminds Ibrahim of his religious duties, Vishnu pipes up every now and then, and Sathyan and Suma try to keep the peace.

The wisened Moosa, who is clearly having none of it, interrupts Vishnu’s soliloquy on imagined historical slights by asking about Shah Jahan. The local barber, you mean?

Moosa ruins his own argument, which upsets the neat equivalence sought between bigots from either faith, by mistaking Shah Rukh Khan for a ruler. Anish Pallyal’s screenplay initially promises a balanced depiction of how minority radicalism can be a direct consequence of majoritarian politics. Vishnu’s prejudice is the stuff of toxic Whatsapp forwards, while Laiq is given a tragic back story.

Roshan Mathew in Kuruthi (2021). Courtesy Prithviraj Productions/Amazon Prime Video.

The balance goes out of whack when Laiq gets to work. Laiq has the crazed eyes and set expression of a psychotic killer from a horror film, and is accompanied by a background score that suggests djinns murmuring and gargling.

Laiq’s dexterously wielded knife suggests a familiarity with butchery. Elsewhere, it is implied that he isn’t even human, what with his ability to brush off grievous injuries and nearly out-run a motorcycle moving at high speed.

The Malayalam production, which is out on Amazon Prime Video, plays out mostly at night and in low light. Cinematographer Abinandan Ramajunam does an excellent job of creating a primal world in which humans are reduced to their basest instincts.

Ramajunam has a lot of scene-setting to work on – Pallyal and Warrier explore every possible permutation and combination to stretch out the narrative to 122 minutes. This one attacks and that one retaliates and somebody or the other keep arriving and leaving on this night with seemingly no end. Roshan Mathew, Mamukkoya, Naslen and Srindaa stand out in the revolving set of characters who are locked into an us-versus-them debate that often forgets how the actions of “us” created “them”.

Kuruthi (2021).