Phoenix, directed by Vishnu Bharathan, is a 2023 horror film that really sends chills down the spine in some scenes, but then it doesn’t have enough ‘horror’ to keep you hooked for the 130 minutes of runtime. The second act is entirely taken up by a flashback, which leaves very little time for the third act to unfold. Everything is hastened up, and the film, which began with a promise of being the Indian Exorcist, becomes an ode to love and longing. The story is set in a coastal village where John, an advocate, arrives to live in a rented house with his family. When strange letters keep getting delivered, addressed to someone named Freddy, John’s curiosity nudges him to open the letters, and the contents turn his life upside down. Phoenix is a well-crafted horror film, and this certainly holds true for the first half, and the performances are noteworthy, especially by the child artists, who feature as John’s children.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
John, a family man, was sure that he had done a good thing by paying six months of rent in advance. His previous landlords had caused him some distress, which is why he shifted to the coastal village. John was a very proud man who had some problems with his father-in-law as well. John’s wife, Daisy, and his three kids were nowhere in the picture when deciding what kind of house to rent. John said no to all the houses that had pestering neighbors around, and hence he arrived at the secluded house he finally chose. John was looking for peace, it seemed, and it was nowhere to be found. The letters disturbed him further, as they were not being delivered by the mailman. Someone was leaving them at his doorstep. When John opened the letters, which were addressed to Freddy, he figured they were love letters written by a woman named Rose. But there was no Freddy, and he hadn’t been there for almost twenty years. When he told Ameer, his friend, about these strange letters, the possibility of a demonic presence in the house was explored.
Why Couldn’t John Leave The House?
John had received three letters, and Rose, the woman writing the letters, seemed to be mentioning a few events that were happening in John’s life. Ameer was initially flabbergasted by John’s attitude towards these letters, and he told him that there must be an old pal of theirs, a prankster, who was doing all this. Ameer mentioned one old friend who used to sing a song, and later, when John returned to the house, he saw his son Tittu singing the same song. When asked, he revealed that someone from the ground below had taught him that song. John was almost paralyzed with fear and wanted to leave the house as soon as possible. But there was a problem. He couldn’t get back his rent, even though he had only been in the house for less than a week. The advance payment now seemed to be a terrible idea, and he had to find a place for the family to stay before he could leave. John made the family stay at Ameer’s house, but that turned out to be a horrible idea as Shainu, Ameer’s wife, burned her hand and had to be taken to the hospital. John found a letter in Ameer’s house explicitly stating that once someone was the secluded house’s guest, they could never leave. John understood this to be a message from the demonic presence who would harm the families he would leave his family with. His landlord’s neighbor told him that the rented house was built over a cemetery and that a priest had seen ghosts near the area.
How Did John Find Father Francis?
All this talk about the cemetery where the victims of the cholera outbreak of 1971 were buried raised all sorts of notions in John’s head. He began a search to track down Freddy, as Rose wanted the letters to reach him. It was quite evident that she would not stop unless Freddy read the letters. But before reaching Freddy, he had to get to Father Francis, who was the priest around that time when the bodies were buried. It was suspected that perhaps Rose and Freddy were among the dead, and Rose now wanted to reunite with her lover. John contacted a priest to look up the records of the people in the parish, but there was no record of Freddy and Rose. But there was a Margaret in another parish who had an engagement ceremony in 1971, and the groom’s name was listed as Freddy. Time seemed to have run out when John’s eldest daughter Mariya was possessed by Rose, and she began to self-harm to push John to find Freddy. John found Margaret, who told him that the wedding never happened as Freddy ran away and never returned just two days before the engagement. Soon Ameer got a letter with Father Francis’ address, who had just returned from Rome and had late-stage cancer. John and Ameer visited Father Francis, and he finally revealed the love story of Rose and Freddy. John didn’t have much time as his children were showing signs of a mysterious illness that was similar to the cholera that spread in 1971.
How Did Anna Die?
Rose was nowhere to be found because the woman they were looking for was Anna. Her full name was Anna Rose, and she was an orphan who had been raised in Kochi in a priory. She had returned to her hometown after having saved up some money. She met Freddy, and they instantly shared a connection. Freddy’s family wanted him to marry Margaret, but he was getting more and more smitten with Anna. Freddy was almost on the verge of completing his higher studies, but living with Anna became his sole priority. He left his house and started to help Anna run her homestay.
Freddy stopped asking for money from home, and his empty pockets started to become a problem. Anna didn’t get her license to run a homestay, and soon they were bankrupt. Freddy’s father put the idea in his head that he should complete his studies and then return. His plan worked, and Freddy left for higher studies while Anna waited for him to come back. It was Francis who helped her get her homestay license so she didn’t have to suffer in poverty. But the spread of cholera destroyed everything. People were falling ill, were presumed dead, and had to be buried. Francis was tying a string to the fingers of the bodies, as if they ever gained consciousness, they could pull the string, which was connected to a bell on the cross on their gravestone. It was a practice borrowed from Europe during the plague, where people who ended up buried were not always dead. They were suspected to have died as they had no pulse, but if, by some miracle, they survived, they needed a way to get out. Anna, too, got infected, and she was presumed dead. As she was a Christian of a different denomination, she was buried in her villa’s backyard. Francis tied a string to every person who was buried and went away. Anna was still alive, and she rang the bell in the middle of the night, but the watchman didn’t have the courage to dig the grave. It was too late by the morning. John understood that Anna had written letters to Freddy that he had not read and was still trying to contact him, even after her death.
During the ending of Phoenix, John gets the address of Freddy’s father from Francis. Freddy wasn’t there, but when his mother came out, John gave Anna’s letter he had received her, saying that his family wouldn’t survive if she didn’t get Freddy to visit him. John, preparing for imminent death, visited his family, where Mariya was still possessed, and she almost killed the whole family. The family was literally saved by the bell, and it was Freddy at the door. He must have been in his home, and after seeing the letters, he must have believed that John was being contacted by Anna. She finally met Freddy, even though it was through Mariya, and Freddy apologized for having gone away. Lust had taken over him for a while as he had gotten close to Margaret after learning that Anna was dead. He sobbed a river and was left in the house alone. Anna punished Freddy by not sending any more letters. He hadn’t read any of them when she was alive, and now she made him feel how she felt back in 1971. Lonely and helpless. John’s family had done their job, and they were spared. Like the mythological bird Phoenix that rises from its ashes, Anna Rose has risen to connect with her lover and make him come back. She hadn’t been able to do so when alive, but now she had the power of death, and she made Freddy embrace the earth where she had been buried.