Directed by: #TathagataGhosh
Written by: #TathagataGhosh
Murder mysteries are rarely sun-bleached affairs. Usually, they take place under cover of darkness, only the noise of cicadas punching through the night air. As dusk falls, there’s a tinge of tension and fear that’s heightened by the shadows cloaking the earth. Yet in Tathagata Ghosh’s short film, The Demon (Doitto), the action takes place under the glare of the full sun. It’s an unusual way to establish a cop thriller, but even in this arid heat, moments of tension pierce the script.
The opening of this short film immediately has a sombre note. Shockingly, 180 children go missing in India every day. This may be a real number, but The Demon is interested in a fictional case. A serial killer, who has murdered a string of babies, prowls the Bengali countryside. A more senior officer, Pablo Bose (Shataf Figar) and his younger officer pulled from narcotics, Rico Dutta (Aryan D. Roy), are desperately working on the case before the next victim’s body appears. After they receive a phone call from a homeless man (Soumya Majumdar), claiming that his baby daughter has been killed, the two policemen arrive at a train station to try and ascertain the facts.
The first few moments of this film are ripe with tension. Night is upon us, and Soumya Majumdar’s maddening hypnotic stare puts us on edge. A phone call, a baby’s cry, and his tears layer on top of each other to create a bombardment of noise and fear. But as the dawn breaks and most of the film takes place on a train station in the sweltering summer sun, the tension immediately peters out. There is no pathetic fallacy here, but I’m not asking for a deluge of rain or a cold snap. Bong-Joon Ho excellently creates a sense of foreboding by casting his shots in a sandy, grimy filter in Memories of Murder. While visually, the cinematography is a little lacking, the sound design is excellent. However, this avalanche of competing sound is only sparsely used, even though it is enough to give you goosebumps.
The film plays out with a good cop, bad cop dynamic, centring around the homeless man. The older Pablo Bose is wiser and more willing to follow the law, while the younger Rico is a bit of a loose cannon. This dynamic isn’t anything new; it’s present in David Fincher’s Seven and Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. There is nothing wrong with this tried and tested formula; however, it’s strangely used to interrogate the male characters’ relationship to the women in their lives, rather than explore their relationships with each other. All the men are motivated by unseen women who act like moral signposts. Pablo Bose is destined to be an absent father as he hasn’t even attended his daughter’s birth. Rico feels guilty for forcing his ex-wife to have an abortion. While the action is nominally between these three men, this focus on female bodies as the characters’ motivations is a little unnerving.
Ghosh pulls together an intriguing police mystery drama that lacks a little bit of a stylistic edge. Baby daughters and wives are clumsily used as plot devices or as a way to explain away petty character motivations. However, Ghosh still has a solid story full of twists and turns.