You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Mercury’

A silent steampunk zombie eco-thriller? The latest international Indian release is a visually artful nightmare, but it has more style than sense.

Karthik Subbaraj
Deepak Paramesh, Anish Padmanabhan, Sananth Reddy, Shashank Purushotham, Remya Nambeesan, Prabhu Deva.
Release Date:
Apr 13, 2018

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7881558/

Mercury,” which has the distinction of being the first wordless steampunk zombie eco-thriller, is a movie that’s more exotic than your average international Indian release — but also, in a weird way, less exotic. (Like many American horror films, it’s got more style than sense.) It’s about five characters in their early twenties, all of whom, as children, suffered mercury poisoning at the hands of the Corporate Earth company — a fictionalized version of Unilever, whose improper disposal practices in the southern hill town of Kodaikanal resulted in death and disabilities that led, in 2001, to a major lawsuit. In “Mercury,” the five characters — four dudes (Anish Padmanabhan, Deepak Paramesh, Sananth Reddy, and Shashank Purushotham) and a young woman (Remya Nambeeshan) — are deaf-mutes who make avid use of what you’d call sign language, though it isn’t all that signed. Most of it is consists of simple and rather frantic hand gestures, as if people who didn’t know sign language were trying to communicate anyway.

“Mercury” is being marketed as a “silent film,” but actually, it’s not silent at all. The soundtrack is thick with realistic noise, and Santhosh Narayanan’s musical score is richly atmospheric; this is simply a sound film in which no one talks. The opening half hour, which features a party with thumping Indian heavy metal and dance music, is more than a little trying, since the film has no subtitles, and we have to work to figure out what the characters are saying to each other.

But then they hop into a car, and one grisly accident and mysterious vanished corpse later, they wind up at the abandoned Corporate Earth factory, where that body turns up as some sort of bizarre undead human monster who is also a victim of mercury poisoning. He’s played, with a face covered in bloody makeup, by the noted choreographer, actor, and director Prabhu Deva, who resembles Laurence Olivier in the 1965 film version of “Othello” and gives what may be the world’s first zombie performance that looks as though it belongs in a ballet.

Is the character, in fact, a zombie? At times, it struck me that way, but I have no real idea. Karthik Subbaraj, the writer-director of “Mercury,” works in an arbitrary hallucinatory style that seems, at moments, like dream logic and at others like he forgot to shoot pages of his script. The movie is a mess, yet once the thriller plot kicks in, you do start to absorb it as a “silent” film, tuning into the visual atmosphere of stalker fear and rusty chemical entropy.

The factory, it turns out, is one of the most spectacularly sprawling and corroded industrial ruins you’ve ever seen: a fantastic junk heap of dilapidated metal, of beakers and knobby consoles and rotting faucets and piles of crumbling spare parts. It’s a setting presented to the audience in the decay-as-beauty spirit of the grandly wrecked Hué combat theater in “Full Metal Jacket,” and with its pewter trashiness dotted with shiny flecks of mercury, it does look toxic enough to kill you. Bathed, at times, in a sick glow of green phosphorescence, that set tells its own story: of murder by neglect. As the characters are attacked, first one then another, by Deva’s graceful zombie demon martyr (whatever he is), the film communicates its message between the lines of the action. The message is: They may be fighting for their lives, but they’re already in hell.

Film Review: 'Mercury'

Reviewed at Magno, New York, April 10, 2018. MPAA Rating: Not rated. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: A Pen India Limited release of a Stone Bench Films production. Producers: Jayantilal Gada, Kaarthekeyen Santhanam. Executive producer: M. Ashok Narayanan.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Karthik Subbaraj. Camera (color, widescreen): S. Tirru. Editor: Vivek Harshan. Music: Santhosh Narayanan.

With: Deepak Paramesh, Anish Padmanabhan, Sananth Reddy, Shashank Purushotham, Remya Nambeesan, Prabhu Deva.

More Film

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content