For just over a week now, I have been sampling the cinema of Indonesia, a country whose cinematic delights I had yet to taste before my viewing of “Merantau”. Since that film, I have watched three other films which consisted of the bizarre helpings from director Joko Anwar, “The Forbidden Door” and “Kala”, and this film, the bloody and violent horror film “Macabre” (“Darah”).
“Macabre” comes from the combined minds of the self-titled “Mo” Brothers, whose real names are Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, who are obviously not real brothers at all. However the two of them seem to work well together and have created quite the entertaining horror tale. After receiving such a positive response from their short film of the same title, the “brothers” decided to make this film into feature length for their debut and although it is derivative of past horror classics (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Inside” are referenced frequently), there is still enough in “Macabre” for it to stand out on its own.
The set-up to the film is simple and once it is complete, the horror and gore kick in and do not let up until the credits roll. After accepting a job in Australia, Adjie and his heavily pregnant wife Astrid, meet up with a couple of close friends for one final trip to Jakarta to have a night of fun and adventure, before they board a plane to their new life. Joining them on the trip is Adjie’s sister Ladya, where it is evident there is some unresolved tension between the siblings. Soon after setting off on their journey, the group of friends come across a dazed looking young girl, Maya, standing out in the rain claiming she had been mugged. They decide to drive the young girl home when they find out it is on the way to their destination. Once they reach Maya’s house, she is insistent that they all come inside and meet her mother, and her mother, likewise, is insistent that they stay for dinner as thanks for bringing her baby girl home safely. As soon as they enter the house, Adjie and his friends recognize that something is amiss about this place, that something isn’t right, but fear of offending the family, forces them to stay for dinner. It is a decision that they will regret for the rest of their lives (which may not be long) because there is something very wrong with this family and it appears that they will do anything to get to Astrid’s unborn baby.
As I stated earlier, there is nothing original about “Macabre”, with the initial set-up echoing both “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “House Of 1000 Corpses”, the quiet mother figure hunting an unborn child is from “Inside”, and even the reason why they want the baby is from another film, Hong Kong’s “Dumplings”. What the film lacks in originality though, is made up by its style, as well as a number of great performances from most of the cast. The biggest strength of “Macabre” is its visual style which shows a confidence that is not usually as prevalent in first time directors. The angles and compositions of their shots always makes the film interesting to look at, as well as building the needed suspense, which keeps the viewer engaged. Though no doubt due to its limited budget, “Macabre” does feel a little rough around the edges, with some of the editing a little jerky and sloppy, and I also felt that the sound design left a lot to be desired. There is a scene within the film where characters are outside in the rain, and yet we never actually hear the rain, which robs the film of atmosphere (and a reality). Also characters appear to disappear for long stretches of the film, only to reappear just as you have forgotten about them and thus no longer care. While it is not at all terrible, I’m sure the film could have benefitted with a small re-edit, just to tighten it up a bit.
The standout performance of “Macabre” has to be Julie Estelle as Ladya, Adjie’s sister. She immediately engages with us, the audience, making us instantly care for her and her safety. Her character has to go through and do some of the most extreme and disturbing things (for instance, biting a man’s tongue off)in the film, but she really pulls it off. She is believable as the young polite waitress we are introduced to at the beginning of the film and she is equally believable as the animalistic survivor she is portrayed as in the finale. Ario Bayu also handles himself nicely in the role of Adjie. His role is more emotional rather than physical as Adjie is sent into turmoil while being helpless, while witnessing attacks on both his wife and sister, as well as the attempts to steal his unborn child. Quite by coincidence, Ario Bayu has been in the past three Indonesian films I have watched and he is always very good (in fact, I actually thought he was outstanding in “The Forbidden Door”, and really stole the film for me). Shareefa Daanish plays the “mother of all fear”, Dara, brilliantly. She initially underplays the role, appearing passive while still giving off a sinister vibe, but when she explodes into violence, Dara is no longer a passive character in the slightest, and Shareefa Daanish’s savage acting supports this. She is chilling (she also played the same role in the “Mo” Brother’s short that this film is based). Actually the whole cast is great with one glaring exception. Arifin Putra who plays Adam, Dara’s son, gives an absolutely terrible performance and walks around as if his character were a robot. There is a tree later in the film that has more charisma and screen presence, not to mention acting talent, than poor Putra.
As we are talking about a horror film here, surely there has got to be some gore. Let me say that “Macabre” is an absolute blood bath. Literally every character is covered in blood and every surface of the house is dripping in the red stuff before the conclusion of the film. This is truly an incredibly bloody and gory film, but it is all good and entertaining stuff. Any film that includes scenes with a chainsaw used for evil has got to be worth watching. An image I am always drawn to is the “final girl” covered head-to-toe in blood, finally deciding enough is enough, and ready to take on the villain(s) at their own game. I don’t know what that says about me, but it is an incredibly powerful image and has been seen in films like “The Descent”, “Eden Lake” and the grand daddy of them all, Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”. Now “Macabre” has added its name to that list, and again I found myself drawn to that image.
Overall, “Macabre” is not a perfect film by a long-shot however it is always an enjoyable one. For horror fans, there is nothing new to be seen here and a strong sense of “déjà-vu” may be felt throughout a viewing of “Macabre”, but the “Mo” Brother’s strong visual style and the performances from the cast, make it a worthwhile film to check out. Just beware that this is an incredibly bloody film so it is obviously not going to be for everyone.