Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hantu (2007)

As we all know, hiking and camping are some of the most dangerous activities known to Man. Case in point are the adventures of a quintet of young Indonesians pictured here.

Pushed along by hiking enthusiast Gal (Oka Antara), the young people are planning to visit a rather mysterious mountain lake, and nothing is going to stop them.

So the locals are eating living snakes? No problem. The only person willing to drive them up the mountain for a reasonable price is the village alcoholic? Ho hum. The village alcoholic changes his mind when he remembers where exactly they are driving and throws them off his truck? Oh well, let's just hike normally, then. Oh look, there's a creepy guy and a dilapidated shack close to the edge of the forest? Let's follow the creepy one's directions.

When they finally pitch camp in the fog-shrouded woods, even their enthusiasm starts to fade a little. It doesn't help much that there's a jealousy side-story between Gal, his girlfriend Rinjani (Dhea Ananda) and Ray (Dwi Andhika), Rinjani's best friend and biggest fan.

That's the sort of problem which tends to fade somewhat when the local wood ghost takes exemption to its visitors and starts to spook around. The thing knows some neat ghostly tricks, including the sudden river poke and a method to lure Rinjani deeper into the woods that's never going to be explained to us.

The rest of the friends realize the girl's absence the next morning and find her crying and exhausted on a clearing. There follows more manly posturing by Gal and Ray, until Rinjani does a little "I am possessed" number and disappears again.

This of course isn't the end of the spooky going-ons.

Hantu starts out rather impressive. The characters are on the more likeable side of the freshmeat that typically trundles innocently into the realm of the supernatural, the actors seem fine enough in their young and pretty ways and the promise of their sure doom doesn't sound completely deserved.

Director Adrianto Sinaga delivers some fine nature shots, and friends of shots of foggy, wet woods in cinema will be cackling with delight for a lot of the film's running time.

Alas, pretty woods and actors alone are seldom enough for a successful horror film. Unfortunately, it's the fright scenes where the film falls down rather limply. On paper, most of the big fright set pieces sound promising, but Sinaga's not too good at setting them up effectively. He may avoid my old enemies the jump cut and the whoosh cut, but a weird hand for positioning the camera always in exactly the wrong place to evoke any feeling of dread makes much of the proceedings rather uninteresting. Instead, the way the shots are set up emphasize the silliness of a movie that consists mostly of five people running through the woods screaming (often for no particular reason). The handful of scenes which have a certain amount of creepiness impress in spite of Sinaga's efforts and not because of them.

I don't want to come down too hard on the film, though. The basic ideas are sound and the script tries very hard for a character-based version of horror and for a mix of the international language of teen horror and with more specific Indonesian feeling. I don't think it really succeeds at that, but the direction Hantu is going for is sound and interesting. With just a bit more sense for creepy mood this could be quite a film.

It was certainly well worth watching once for me, especially in context of the sort of crap that isn't even trying to be coherent or effective I usually inflict upon myself.

Also, I really like dark and wet woods.


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