Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pizza: Good to the last slice. [SPOILER FREE review]

Earlier this week I received a tweet from @PrimeMediaUS telling me that Pizza was available for $2.99 rental from iTunes with English subtitles and everything. [Information I am now sharing with you, although I can’t find a direct link. Just search for “Pizza” in the iTunes store.] I usually ignore PR blasts but this was information I was actually interested in. I’d been hearing about the surprise 2012 hit Pizza for over a year now and although I’d been dying of curiosity, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to watch it minus subtitles on youtube. And now my patience has been rewarded!

Pizza is an odd and utterly engaging little film being mistakenly marketed as a Paranormal Activity type horror film. Anybody who thinks that didn’t watch past the first two minutes. Pizza has elements of horror but also it has elements of the whole masala mix, including romance and comedy and, at its heart, Pizza is not a horror film but a clever, psychological suspense film. And like any suspense film, much of the fun of watching Pizza for the first time comes from not knowing what is going to happen next, so I’ll keep discussion of plot specifics to an absolute minimum.

Michael (newcomer Vijay Sethupathi) is a server and deliveryman at a pizza restaurant. He lives with his girlfriend Anu (Remya Nambeesan), a student and aspiring mystery novelist, and spends his evenings shooting the shit with his work buddies (Karunakaran and Jayakumar). Michael seems to be aimlessly drifting through life and slowly pickling in his own bitterness. But life intervenes. One evening, Michael’s boss (Aadukalam Naren) sends him off on a special delivery and Michael returns bloody and terrified... and spinning an unbelievable tale about how he got that way.

Working with a very limited budget, special effects and camera tricks are deployed sparingly. Proving again the old adage that what you don’t see can be far scarier than any rubber monster mask or CGI, instead of shocking us with fake blood and limbs getting hacked off, writer-director Karthik Subburaj makes clever use of audience expectations and the actors--especially Vijay Sethupathi as Michael. As Michael, Vijay spends a lot of time as the audience stand-in, reacting to things--whether it’s creepy dolls, creepy little girls, mysterious notes, or completely empty rooms. Michael is afraid, so we are afraid. If Karthik (and Vijay) couldn’t transmit that, the film wouldn’t work.

The relationship between Anu and Michael was another highlight of the film. Anu wasn’t just a ‘girlfriend,’ she was a three dimensional character. Although she doesn’t get much screentime later in the film for mysterious reasons, the Anu we see in the beginning of the film is a smart, playful, and strong willed woman. She doesn’t put up with nonsense from Michael and won’t compromise her moral values. Much of Anu and Michael’s backstory can be read in the easy way the characters interact with other; this isn’t the rush of first love but an established partnership. And Reema Nambeesan is lovely as Anu. Her eyes are alive with such intelligence and emotion.

Jayakumar as the 'chef' of the pizza restaurant was great in his working class nonchalance towards everything and I also enjoyed the woman playing the boss's daughter, although I couldn't find her name. She has a lethal glare and, in her final shot, hints that something far bigger is going on.

I really don’t want to give away too much in this initial review but so much of Pizza rests on foiling all of our expectations, hinting at a Delhi Belly bromance or a Chandramukhi-style possession and then letting the audience draw its own conclusions... before smashing all those conclusions in a gleeful fit. I’m not sure if it would work for people who aren’t familiar with those films but then the beauty of Pizza is that it’s not trying to. What I loved the most about Pizza is that there was no International Film Festival Red Carpet Desires lurking in the background. This was a film by a writer-director from outside the system, steeped in Tamil film culture as a viewer before he ever picked up a camera. Karthik made a smart, youthful film that worked because it was aimed at viewers like himself. People that just really, really love films.

That’s me and and if that’s you, too, give Pizza a taste!

And P.S. Karthik’s next film is coming soon and looks pretty boss. It stars Siddharth:

1 comment:

Mariola said...

I couldn't agree more with your opinion. One of the best tamil movies lately and I'm so glad I decided to watch it (I also was afraid of this 'horror' tag:D) Also it was my 'discovery' of Vijay Sethupathy, who seems to be deservedly 'flavour of the season' in tamil cinema.

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