Game Over Movie Review: Taapsee shines in this intricate thriller that offers more than meets the eye
A layered thriller that is a thorough documentation of the trials and tribulations that a survivor faces after a traumatic event
When does one get closure? Wait, let me rephrase that question. What signifies closure to you? Say there has been an accident when you were riding a two-wheeler. There is extensive damage but also a tangible road to recovery. Where does that road end? When you get back on the vehicle for the first time, ignoring those trembling hands? Or when you can hear the noise of the traffic without being overwhelmed? Or when you slowly crawl back to confidence, only to be pushed back to square one by a trigger of some sorts. The question is, can you ever finally shut the door on it and call it the past?
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Vinodhini Vaidyanathan, Sanchana Natrajan
Director: Ashwin Saravanan
Game Over metaphorically juxtaposes this battle in the backdrop of a... video game. It does feel like a game, doesn’t it? The levels get harder, the enemy gets more powerful, you get weaker, and then stronger. The film argues that life isn’t all that different when it asks, what if life were a video game and the deja vu is just a bunch of checkpoints? It makes a lot of sense.
Game Over is structured that way as well. Swapna’s (Taapsee Pannu) trauma is much more debilitating — she is a survivor of sexual abuse. We don’t exactly see what happens to her, but then we don’t need to. We all know the story too well. Unfortunately, it has become ‘too common’ that for people not directly affected, it is just another story. The film firmly trains its eyes on the survivor’s journey, the trials and tribulations of her battle to recovery, and I was quite glad for it. The film takes us through these phases organically — beginning from blaming oneself (‘I could have avoided going out that night’) to accepting that one can’t change the past (‘I can cry but I can’t change what happened’) and eventually, trying to make peace with it; when you can finally say Game Over (‘sethaalum paravala, sanda podalaam’).
It is an example of good writing when the details aren’t in just the dialogues. Game Over’s writing (by Ashwin Saravanan himself and Kaavya Ramkumar) is exceptionally strong as it manoeuvres through the dark, lonely lanes of PTSD. Swapna chooses to wear full sleeves — drab clothes that truly ‘cover her up’. She prefers to sleep on the couch. She is nyctophobic. Swapna is real, and so are the walls she has built around herself. And the effect of the atmosphere these details create is that we breathe along with her — in panic, in relief, and in fear.
Trauma, like tattoos, is permanent in most cases. Even though it can feel lonely, recovery is rarely a solitary exercise — one can't forget the people who choose to see it through with you. And in Swapna’s case, it is Kalamma (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan), who quite literally is the help. I don’t remember the last time we saw a supporting character that isn’t a caricature; someone who has a presence of her own. And the relationship Swapna and Kalamma share is beautiful, with organic, standout moments. The first time we witness Taapsee talking about her trauma, we don’t see her parents; we see Kalamma, sweeping away in the background — one could say she is cleaning up the mess in Swapna’s life as well. Or the first moment we witness these two together. Kalamma gives Swapna her food; the latter takes a bite and frowns at her. Kalamma doesn’t think twice before taking a bite out of Swapna’s plate and playfully saying, “Idhuku enna korachal, uppu konjam kammiya iruku.” The scene, in one swift flow, establishes the heartwarming relationship they share.
And I can’t think of two better people to perform these ornate characters than Taapsee and Vinodhini. It is rather unusual for someone who doesn’t know the language to headline a film, but as Ashwin mentioned in a recent interview with us, Taapsee owns it. I took some time to get accustomed to the voice, but it doesn’t irk you at any point — thanks to the intensity of her subtle, yet hardhitting performance (Dubbing artiste Deepa Venkat further knocks all doubts out of the park). Vinodhini is terrific too. Just look at her when Swapna agrees to meet her estranged parents — she is elated but doesn't want to shout it out loud. The spark in Vinodhini's eyes is enough. Even the actors who play smaller characters (with respect to screen time), Sanchana Natrajan, Mala Parvathy, and Ramya leave indelible marks. Also, how refreshing to see so many real women characters on screen! If for nothing else, I feel Game Over should be celebrated for this.
Despite all this emotional subtext, Game Over is a thriller and the film firmly speaks the genre’s language. The cinematography, on several occasions, chooses corners to peek from (like CCTV cameras or, to give a psychological twist, even trauma itself?). And in hand with the terrific soundtrack and sound design, Game Over manages to surprise us on one more than one occasion with some brilliant moments — it subverts some familiar tropes with effective usage of silence and matter-of-fact reveals. Ashwin has made the most use of the runtime, a taut 103 minutes. There isn’t a single frame that is unnecessary. Each is peppered with visual cues — of what’s going on and what’s about to come. But these cues are like when you hand-hold a kid at the zoo. The film ensures we aren’t lost but still lets us see what we want to see.
That’s the thing with films that offer you more than what meets the eye. As director Manikandan once beautifully phrased, when talking about Kaaka Muttai, people who wanted to see the social commentary saw it. If not, it would still work as a simple drama about two kids who want to taste pizza. On the outside, Game Over is a thriller, and while effective, it does leave you with questions if you choose to not look at all the metaphors. I, however, wouldn’t mind getting back to square one, just to play this game all over again.