Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
As is somewhat traditional in films, a small, young family consisting of
mother Rin(i) (Nabila Syakieb), father (I)Van (Ashraf Sinclair) and little
daughter Laura (Sakinah Dava Erawan) moves into a new home in the country,
although as a non-Indonesian I'd call it "the jungle" or at least "the deep dark
Rini and Van are enthusiastic about their new house. It was cheap, and there
are none of the dangers of the city threatening their daughter now. One would
think that the country air could also be good for Laura's asthma. There's a
certain lack of neighbours, though, with the only person living nearby the young
physician Dr. Nila (Kinaryosih). At least she's friendly and could probably be
of help when little Laura has one of her attacks.
Less friendly are other inhabitants of the area. Right on the family's first
day in the new house, Laura follows a strange, unsmiling girl of about her own
age deeper into the woods, until she comes to a weather-beaten old shack beside
a well. There, the other girl seems to disappear into thin air. Instead,
something dressed in white funeral shrouds jumps Laura.
When Rini finds her deeply disturbed daughter, she can't get a word out of
the girl, and puts her strange behaviour on an understandable reaction to the
new environment. In truth, a pocong (female Indonesian ghost dressed in white
shrouds that often seems to have religious connotations I won't pretend to
understand) has taken an interest in the girl. At first, it seems relatively
benign, turning into a kitten and sneaking into Laura's room, or singing her
lullabies, but just too soon the ghost again lures the girl to the shack.
Only this time, Laura doesn't return.
The police (who are never actually shown by the film) find not a trace of the
child, nor any explanation of what happened, so the desperate Rini seeks the
help of a medium, very much against Van's will. The medium diagnoses the place
to be haunted and declares a pocong to be the child snatcher, but seems
unwilling to act on her findings. Only when Van calls her out in a fit of
aggressive scepticism she deigns to do something, and I can't say that I find
giving the sceptic an amulet that is supposed to help him cross over to the
spirit world and then drive away never to return to be a very responsible
Surprisingly enough, Van actually uses the amulet to cross over (through a
gate of pine trees, no less), and manages to bring Laura back. Of course, this
is not the end of the family's troubles.
The more films of the (as it seems still merrily continuing) Indonesian
horror film boom I see, the more impressed I am with it. Of course, quite a few
of the films are terribly generic, or marred by the sort of comic relief that is
neither comical, nor any kind of relief, but you can say that of every country's
genre film output at the best of times. The important thing is the good films,
and the good horror films made in Indonesia in the last five years or so tend to
be very good, and quietly ambitious in exploring the possibilities of their
The Real Pocong definitely is one of those good films. Directed by
Hanny R. Saputra (whose other films I unfortunately know next to nothing about),
it is a film that treats its horror story as a fairy tale. One just needs to
have a look at the plot structure - like the way the film uses repetition - or
the elements (the deep dark wood, the road into the other world, the
child-snatching supernatural creature etc) of the plot to realize this.
The characters are more archetypes than psychologically "realistic" people.
As such, they don't always act as rational or logical as some viewers might want
them to - especially Rini's inability to completely understand what is happening
around her in the final third of the film could be very problematic to some -
but I'm not too sure I would find people learning that their little daughter has
been kidnapped by a ghost and then acting rationally and logically that much
more believable. Thankfully, the handful of actors is good enough to provide
performances which do not confuse the archetypal with the inhuman.
I was especially impressed by Sakinah Dava Erawan. Child actors are often
terrible, and I find it somewhat unfair to blame them for it, seeing that they
just don't have much life experience they could draw from, but I didn't find it
difficult at all to sympathize with this little girl. Cleverly, the first part
of The Real Pocong lets the film's audience share Laura's perspective,
her mixture of terror and wonder and the naturalness with which she treats the
stranger occurrences around her; as a child, she doesn't have the grip on what
should be reality and what not a grown-up possesses, and because we share her
view of the world, we don't get to have that grip either.
As any good fairy tale would, the movie does well addressing anxieties people
typically don't want to be confronted with quite directly. The Laura-centric
half of the film embodies many childhood anxieties. It's not only the more banal
ones like "the thing in the cupboard" or "the thing under the bed", but the fear
of not being understood by one's parents, and the more painful fear of not being
able to trust them.
The second half of the film puts the same (slightly painful) spotlight on the
big parental fear of the loss of one's child without going down either the road
of Spielbergian kitsch, nor that of exploitative melodrama.
Apart from that, The Real Pocong also manages to be quite creepy
(again, as a good fairy tale should be). While some of the special effects look
a bit ropey, the production design and photography are excellent. This is one of
the few horror films whose actions take place nearly entirely by daylight, and
it proves that a director who knows what he's doing doesn't need darkness to
build a mood of dread.