Virus Movie Review: An expertly-staged epidemic thriller
In terms of the strong sense of urgency it creates, Virus sometimes evokes a Paul Greengrass or Kathryn Bigelow film
Aashiq Abu's new film begins in medias res, three days after the onset of the 2018 Nipah outbreak. The Kozhikode district collector Paul Abraham (Tovino Thomas) gets an urgent call, and without much delay, the film is immediately thrust into the middle of the gripping action at the medical college where a young doctor (Sreenath Bhasi) works. This is where everything begins. We get a quick glimpse of all the medical professionals who juggle multiple cases at once — sometimes they lose, sometimes they win. But the worst is yet to come.
When the first of the confirmed Nipah cases are brought in, which includes Sreenath's medical student girlfriend (Madonna Sebastian), chaos ensues. A control room is set up, and urgent attempts are made to ascertain the cause of the victims' symptoms, trace the origin of the virus, and explore theories concerning the medicine mafia and bio-warfare. There is fear in everyone's eyes, even the higher authorities. No one is safe.
Director: Aashiq Abu
Cast: Revathy, Tovino Thomas, Kunchacko Boban, Parvathy
For those who haven't been in Kozhikode at the time of the outbreak, Virus gives us a sufficiently anxiety-inducing picture of the events that took place in the city. Some of the film's tension-inducing moments are so skillfully staged that, every time you hear someone cough or sneeze, you begin to feel slightly uncomfortable. I found myself battling a mild urge to reach for my hand sanitizer during the intermission.
This is not one of those multi-starrers where each actor is competing for space. Big or small, everyone has a role to play, and all the actors carry out their respective duties with aplomb. How often do you get a film with so many good actors in the same frame? Indrajith Sukumaran shows up as the doctor who volunteers to cremate the bodies. He is not only one of the film's coolest characters but also its comic relief. The humour in the film sometimes comes from the most unexpected places.
I also want to point out that, unlike many Indian thrillers, Virus doesn't have the characters mouthing medical jargon as if they're reading from a textbook. When Kunchacko Boban, Rahman, and Tovino are discussing 'official' matters, it doesn't sound artificial. They look and sound exactly how government officials and doctors do in real life.
Pulling off a survival thriller based on actual events is not an easy feat, especially one featuring a group of well-known stars. But Aashiq and his team have done just that. The carefully researched and constructed script — penned by Muhsin Parari, Suhas and Sharfu — switches back and forth between the present and earlier moments of multiple characters, giving you just the right amount of information to make you care for them. The film doesn't linger on the sad moments for very long. In addition to paying tributes to the real-life heroes, the film doesn't forget to address the stigma faced by some of them.
Editor Saiju Sreedharan (Kumbalangi Nights) carefully weaves all the pieces together into a coherent whole. Also worth noting is the usage of Sushin Shyam's pulsating and occasionally eerie background score. We don't see the usual tendency of using a musical cue to force certain emotions out of a viewer.
In terms of the strong sense of urgency it creates, Virus sometimes evokes a Paul Greengrass or Kathryn Bigelow film. And the Christopher Nolan-style cross-cutting helps to heighten the tension. Directors of photography Rajeev Ravi and Shyju Khalid keep things as natural as possible, without drawing too much attention to their work. The film's poignant final shot, featuring Sudani from Nigeria director Zakariya, makes you see things from a completely different perspective. In fact, there are several perspective-altering shots in Virus.
Virus arrives just days after we learned of a second Nipah outbreak in Kerala, and exactly a year after the first. So, I was both surprised and happy to see a packed early morning show. It's a testament to the fact that passionate cinephiles will show up to watch a film of this magnitude no matter what others say. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we finally get in Virus that Hollywood-level, race-against-time survival thriller I have been waiting to see from Malayalam cinema for a long time. This is how it's done.