Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In short: Hantu Jamu Gedong (2009)

Indonesia, the country with the highest ghost density in the known world. Two probably not very bright students decide that it would be a laugh to wander into the territory of the ghost of a raped and murdered jamu seller (a woman selling a traditional herbal medicine made of egg out of a bag carried around on her back, and, if I believe the movie, also one of the favourite victims of Indonesia's rapist community) and call her up with the help of a broken chicken egg.

The ghost doesn't approve, kills the male part of the student couple and drives the female part insane. Insane gal writes her story down in her journal before she commits suicide. The journal finds its way into the hands of a friend of theirs named Kafka (alas neither Josef nor Franz). Kafka thinks that the jamu seller ghost is exactly what he needs to write his thesis (I suppose he studies ghost science), so he grabs his girlfriend Sa and her best friend Dien and goes ghost hunting. Of course the ghost still disapproves and starts to follow the trio around, doing all the required ghost stunts, even killing an arsehole acquaintance of Kafka's who reminds her a bit too much of one of her killers.

It looks as if Kafka will need to do a bit of research to save himself and his friends. But what does the ghost really want?

The last time we saw Hantu Jamu Gedong's director Koya Pagayo in these parts, he was directing the not exactly original but highly entertaining Hantu Jeruk Purut. Three years (and at least four films) later - and as it seems working with an even lower budget - Pagayo still manages to produce a watchable entry into the book of the great Indonesian horror boom.

Originality still isn't Pagayo's strong suit. The ghost attacks are all happening strictly by the book of Asian horror and he doesn't do anything unexpected with his material, but the director seems to work from the principle that people go into a ghost movie to see ghosts frightening reasonably pretty young people and not to witness soap operatics or painful comedy and therefore shows us the (reasonably creepy looking) ghost menacing said young people early and often. It doesn't sound like much, yet the film's straightforwardness and fillerless pacing in combination with reasonably good acting performances are virtues you don't want to ignore if you have been punished by films containing not even these.

While there's not a single scene in it that truly sticks in my mind (and the film wastes some golden opportunities to speak about the horrors of class), I feel quite friendly disposed towards Hantu Jamu Gendong. It's just another Indonesian horror film about a local ghost legend meeting pretty students, but it is well made enough to entertain for seventy minutes.


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