Penguin has a solid start before it waddles off in the direction of balderdash. The early scenes in Eashvar Karthic’s Tamil-language thriller, which is being streamed on Amazon Prime Video, are filled with dread and unease, hinting at strange things and dastardly truths ahead.
The saga of angels and demons is set in Kodaikanal, which is lensed by Khartik Palani to resemble a location from a Scandi-noir mystery. Penguin injects elements of mild horror into a story about a very pregnant woman and her missing son. Rhythm is two months away from delivering her second child.
Her first-born, Ajay, was two years old when he was taken away by a person wearing a Charlie Chaplin mask. Bits of Ajay’s clothing and body found in the nearby forest suggest that he is dead.
One fine day, Ajay returns. He looks a lot like the feral child from Francois Truffaut’s The Wild Child (1970). His muteness communicates deep-seated trauma. Meanwhile, the Chaplin-wearing kidnapper returns too.
Rhythm (Keerthy Suresh) has a battle on her hands. She is holed up with her husband, her newfound son and her faithful black Labrador Cyrus in a remote bungalow with no one within shouting distance. The investigation into Ajay’s disappearance and re-appearance and the similar abduction of another girl does not seem to have excited the police into launching a proper investigation. It is left to Rhythm to join the dots and sidestep the red herrings to uncover the truth behind Ajay’s condition.
Despite its dark subject matter, Penguin is never as sinister as it needs to be and lacks the emotional undertow necessary to make events believable. Riddled with holes and contrivances and ending on a what-was-that-again note, Eashvar Karthic’s 132-minute film stumbles along on the strength of its visuals and Keerthy Suresh’s suitably fraught performance. Advaith, who plays the revenant Ajay, is also impressive in a largely silent performance.