Saturday, July 25, 2009

In short: Jangan Pandan Belakang (2007)

aka Don't Look Back

During an exorcism, a demon is pulled out of his victim and captured in a bottle, which is then thrown into the ocean.

Some time later, a young man called Darma (Mohd Pierre Andre) is hit with terrible news during a meeting. His fiancee Rose (Intan Ladyana) has suddenly, without any reason he or her family could comprehend, killed herself with sleeping pills.

Especially Darma's twin sister Seri (of course also Intan Ladyana) is skeptical thanks to a strange message her sister had left on her voice mail right before she died. In the panicked message, Rose talks about something that is following her and that she can't get rid of.

When Seri and Darma drive to Rose's apartment, they find the place in a slightly disheveled state. Obviously, having a place that is still tidier than mine was atypically disorganized for her. There is not much else of interest to find, until Darma stumbles over the bottle we saw in the intro sequence. Blissfully unaware of the nature of the thing, he takes it with him.

That same day he starts to see things. Plagued by terrible nightmares and the feeling that something besides grief is following him and torturing him, Darma decides to return to his home town in the country to get the evil spirit exorcised.

I don't know much about Malaysian cinema, but Jangan Pandan Bekalang does mostly speak the language of contemporary Asian horror as seen through a slightly Islamic lens.

So we still have our creeping longhaired female ghost, but it looks rather putrid and has the disconcerting ability to just float behind poor Darma (well, sometimes just to roll around on a tray hidden by her ragged gown).

The film might begin and end with quotes from the Koran, yet I wouldn't call it religious horror. There is no real urge to convert its viewers to anything, the one short scene of religious instruction doesn't really lead anywhere, and although you could read a certain undercurrent of Darma and Rose being singled out by the demon for their a-religious ways into it, the film never goes so over the top with it that it is becoming annoying to the atheist. It is a horror movie first.

Which of course leads to the question "Is it scary?". Well, not all that much, but there is one exceedingly creepy scene tucked away in the last third which alone makes the film worth watching.

And while it isn't all that scary a movie, Jangan Pandang Belakang is still a well done one with solid acting and pacing, decent photography and enough of the spooky stuff to keep me entertained.

For me as a European, it's also just pretty darn interesting to watch a contemporary horror movie from Malaysia - so this is how the concept of demonic possession works there, and this how an exorcism is done etc etc. If you're like me, and interested in other people's conception of the supernatural (even if you are as completely unbelieving in it as I am), that alone should provide quite enough food for thought to keep you going for a while. It most certainly does for me.


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