Penguin Review | All The Wrong Moves

Due to the closure of movie theaters around the world we have seen an influx of straight to VOD titles such as Disney's Artemis Fowl and Judd Apatow's The King of Staten Island. One of those movies is Penguin, a multilingual Indian horror film from debut director Eashvar Karthic, that premiered on Amazon Prime Video on June 19.

Penguin stars National Film Award-winning actress Keerthy Suresh as a pregnant mother who lost her child six years prior. Before we go any further I want to make one thing clear, the trailer for Penguin is well made, but it is also not representative of the final product. I will state my opinion here, I did not enjoy this movie. So instead of me spending this review trying to awkwardly dance around why I didn't like it, I will give a fair spoiler warning here and use the rest of this review to explain my thought process instead. So DO NO KEEP READING if you have not watched this movie and care about the story.

With that out of the way, while the trailer suggests that the film is about a mother looking for her missing child, a majority of the film unfolds after she finds her son. That's right, a child has been missing for six whole years, and luckily stumbles into his mother in the middle of a dense forest by happenstance. There is a large amount of luck and chance at play but I won't hold that against the movie. I'd rather break down the different functional elements of the movie to better understand why Penguin is so flawed.

A key aspect of any horror film is the scares and, unfortunately, none of them really work in the film because at the center of any effective horror film is a character the audience cares about. And while the brutality of what happened to this woman makes you sympathetic to her at first, the consistent stupidity of her actions makes her far from likable. Keerthy Suresh brings nuance to the role but it's difficult for that to matter when the character's actions are so bewildering. A mother has found her missing child after over half a decade and she proceeds to leave him alone in almost every other scene. Earlier I said that while the trailer is well made it isn't representative of the final product and this is primarily what I was talking about. The trailer is cut to show the mother as a strong and intelligent woman with a montage of her enduring grief and being authoritative. But those snippets of action don't accurately represent the stuttering and often indecisive character at all.

Then there's the score. Horror is impacted heavily by music and the intensity of a scene can change drastically based on the presence of the score. While the background music is overall just passable in Penguin there are two pieces that I would really like to highlight. First, there is the piece that plays whenever the child initially goes missing in the forest. The music is entirely out of place and feels very inappropriate given the context. It then returns again during a flashback where the mother and her husband decide to get a divorce. I solemnly believe you can edit that music over a college recruitment video and get better results. The second piece of music is the recurring theme song. This also appears in the trailer and is both eerie yet familiar. Well, as I sat down to write this review, I decided to go back and listen to it again and I could not help but realize the similarity it has with the score for the 2018 Tamil crime thriller Ratsasan. I won't devalue the work done by composer Santhosh Narayanan by saying it is a mere copy. But there are already a few elements of this film's story that reminded me of Ratsasan so I couldn't ignore the similarity.

Next, we have plot lines that don't go anywhere. There are a few things in this movie that go unexplained but there are three that stick out to me the most. The film goes out of its way to mention the mom's fear of bugs. And this is so important that the film's intermission is the son standing with a huge swarm of flies behind him. However, the significance of this is never mentioned again. Not is it explained why the boy could summon all those flies. It just happens randomly to add suspense. Then there is the title. Perhaps I missed the reasoning but other than the story that mom tells her son twice in the movie, there is seemingly no other purpose for the film being named after the aquatic bird. Lastly, a good plot twist needs setup and foreshadowing. Things that make the audience appreciate it more on repeated viewings. But the ending twist in Penguin comes out of the left field with no rhyme or reason. The audience isn't given any information to who the real killer is until the end and the film is more preoccupied with trying to actively mislead the audience away from the answers.

Penguin takes some very clear inspirations from movies like Hereditary, Ratsasan, and The Witch, which even makes a cameo appearance by way of a DVD on the shelf at the start of the movie. However, while it uses its influences to its advantage at parts, mainly in regards to well-framed cinematography, the film never grows beyond that. Penguin doesn't bring anything new to the table, be it characters, plot points, or scares. It remains a rehash of old tricks that have been done to death.

The last thing I will say is this. Penguin is built upon a very apparent message of  "mothers are strong" and it is a message that I can absolutely get behind. As on the nose as it is, the line "behind all your stories, there's a mother's story" which appears in the trailer is a true statement. It's a shame then that a movie that is dedicated so overtly to mothers tells the story of an irresponsible mom who makes all the wrong decisions and frequently risks her own well-being along with that of her children, both born and unborn.

Check out Alexa's video review of Penguin by clicking here or going to GW INTERNATIONAL on YouTube.

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  1. Hey alexa.... Very nice detailed review ... I was also disappointed like u after watching the movie especially in climax.. However not all tamil films are like this... There are many good movies too.. Its great to see your reviews on a tamil maovie which even many north Indian wouldnt be even aware of .