Thursday, April 7, 2011

In short: Santau (2009)

Successful architect Halim (Esma Daniel), his wife Nina (Putri Mardiana) and their little daughter live a happy life, until one day someone decides to smash their happiness. After they ingest some cursed food, horrible things start happening to the family. Halim just gets a bit sick and becomes more jumpy than he usually is, and his daughter sees terrifying dead old women where her mother should be and has minor episodes of possession. Nina takes the brunt of the black magic attack, though. At first, the mild-mannered woman just becomes as rude and angry as a normal person, but soon enough, she's beginning to mistreat her daughter, and feeds her husband worms in his noodles. The next step is obviously a full-grown possession, and true enough, eventually Nina licks wormy masses from the floor, gibbers and develops a tendency to levitate.

Fortunately, religious neighbours can be a whole lot of help when demons attack.

I still don't know enough about the state and history of horror films - or even cinema - in Malaysia to be able to contextualize Azhari Mohd Zain's Santau as a part of the nation's cinematic output. I suspect that the film's religious slant is quite typical for the country, but going around with the hammer of religion is of course also an important part of the whole exorcism movie sub-genre. Like with any old earnest Catholic exorcism movie, this Muslim version also leaves little old atheist me somewhat emotionally disconnected from the whole affair. Watching scenes after scene of people praying and seeing the main character vowing his love for god after his family has been through the wringer isn't exactly what I find entertaining, nor something I find horrifying in the sense the film's maker would probably prefer.

But fortunately Santau takes its identity as a horror film (and therefore a piece of entertainment through fear) as seriously as it does its religious convictions and so goes through all those things I (and other heathens) love dearly about Southeast-Asian horror films: there are more than enough scenes of creepy old women, the eating of frightfully icky stuff, harm done to women and children, etc. and so on, to make one quite happy, or - as the case might be - quite nauseous. Putri Mardiana's possession performance is pretty riveting too. Not only does the actress shout, and howl, and writhe with the best, she also has a frightful willingness to throw herself into the least pleasant physical aspects of her role; I certainly wouldn't want to touch the things she puts her face in.

The exorcisms (making up the movie's final third) are done pretty dramatically, too, staged by Zain with enough theatrical oomph to let me forget that I'm basically watching a woman shout and various men pray for half an hour. It sure helps that every exorcist here has his very own style (probably with religious connotations I don't even begin to understand).

So, while Santau is most certainly not a film made for me (that, by the way is not a critique), and not one that affects me much on an emotional level, it still is a very fun ride, made with one eye on religious righteousness and the other on righteous horror.


No comments: