A rising Indonesian talent: Film review double bill

Macabre

After seeing a couple of director Timo Tjahjanto’s latest work – Headshot and The Night Comes For Us (both fine films) – and being impressed with these additions to the martial arts genre, I decided to seek out his first entry. Macabre (2009) is co-directed with his brother, and it’s an impressive feature-length debut that avoids being just another gorefest while displaying his skill as an early filmmaker.

The dark of night has never looked so red…

The plot is simple enough: a group of friends give a young woman a ride home during a storm. The young woman insists they meet ‘mother’, to which they are then invited to stay for dinner. But the hosts harbour a sinister agenda, and soon the night will run red with blood. After a predictable but non-problematic first act, Tjahjanto and his brother begin to show they have more in mind than just offering up a generic slice of horror fare.

The group are trapped in the house, split up, and desperately trying to survive and fight back against cruel odds and despicable opponents. This leads to a blood-soaked series of set-pieces that are well filmed, unrestrained, and savagely gory. Chainsaws, swords, knives, crossbows… you name it, a variety of tools become prominent towards the conclusion, while the body count keeps rising and the blood keeps spilling. It’s a tense horror film that’s nicely paced, never padded out to fit its lean 90-minute runtime; it also never lingers too long on bloodshed to feel gratuitous, yet doesn’t hide its violence to ensure audiences wince in awe at every limb-severing execution when necessary.

Everybody will bleed…

Macabre descends into chaos and the Mo brothers clearly have an eye for staging wonderfully vicious moments of slaughter, but the story also has an interesting surprise up its sleeve that hints at something darker going on with the evil antagonists, without ever succumbing to extraneous exposition. Overall, Macabre is a good find. Fans of The Night Comes For Us will appreciate the bloodthirsty appetite Tjahjanto has for action, while recognising he’s a promising talent soon to hit his peak. If you like your violence bloody, your gore ankle-deep, and your terror potent, Indonesian horror Macabre is an agreeable descent into barbarity.

Score – 7.5/10

Killers

The first collaboration between Japan and Indonesia, Killers (2014) follows two storylines that gradually become fatally entwined, and represents another strong effort from Timo Tjahjanto and his brother: a dark psychological thriller that follows a serial killer and a journalist, and their murky psyches of violent intentions and human corruptibility,

The bad and the worse

Nomura is the charismatic but vicious psychopath who targets women, kidnaps them, and brutally kills them on film, then posts his kills online for the disturbing pleasure of voyeurs. Bayu is an ambitious journalist with issues of his own, and soon his dark side will emerge after encountering Nomura’s footage online. So begins a descent into bloodshed for Bayu, who’s vigilante crusade unlocks grimy secrets while sending him down a path that almost feels like his true calling as he begins to interact with Nomura in more ways then he’s comfortable.

Despite the subject matter, the Mo Brothers are keen to keep a focus on their narrative and central characters. They understand what to show the audience, and what not to show, when to show it, and vice versa. This prevents the violence from becoming gratuitous for the sake of it, keeping the murderous acts horrifying and not nauseating to strain the threshold of viewer intensity.

And cut…

The story runs out of steam towards the end, unable to sustain its carefully maintained momentum for the home stretch, but its an entertaining journey nonetheless; one that somehow manages to keep you invested in both protagonists as they converge into one seemingly monstrous identity of tragically flawed proportions. The tone is dark, the kills are bloody, and the line between right and wrong is crossed and re-crossed. Killers is a film that looks at the psychology of violence, the catharsis of torture, and saddles the viewer with plenty to contemplate as the story careers towards an inevitable showdown between two very unique yet ultimately villainous killers.

Director Timo Tjahhanto shows improvement in his craft, challenging himself and his target audience with controversial subject matter, while honing his techniques for his latter, more accomplished efforts. In my opinion, he’s a filmmaker to keep an eye on, just waiting for an opportunity to really sell what he’s capable of doing in the film industry, not just the foreign market where he’s still fairly isolated.

Score – 7.5/10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s