Oct 24, 2018
Welcome back to Worldwide Wednesdays! We’re continuing to catch up on Netflix Originals, but this one fits the theme. It’s another Indonesian film, like “The Night Comes For Us” (Episode #295) from earlier this week, and “The 3rdEye” (Episode #276) from earlier this month. It looks like Netflix is picking up quite a few Indonesian films, and I look forward to taking them all in. If you have any suggestions, however, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out on social media.
Today’s movie is “Kuntilanak” (2018), the Netflix Original Indonesian comedy horror film directed by Rizal Mantovani and written for the screen by Alim Sudio. The film follows a group of five orphans, whose adopted mother is leaving on a trip, and has left them in the hands of their “aunt” Lydia (Aurélie Moenemans). However, when her boyfriend Glenn (Fero Walandouw) brings a haunted mirror into the house, the children learn it contains a Kuntilanak, a monster that snatches children into the supernatural realm. Now the children must fight against the spirit as it begins taking them one by one, before it’s too late to get them back.
Unless you’re a true horror or role-playing buff, you’ve probably never heard of a Kuntilanak. It’s a mythical monster from Malaysian folklore, also known as a Pontianak, and is a vampire-like creature that is said to come from either a woman who died giving birth or a stillborn child. It’s a pretty gruesome legend, and much like European vampires, has had more than one story or myth based on the same kind of legend. And much like European vampires in the Western film scene, the Kuntilanak as a creature has been in over 21 films between the Indonesian and Malaysian film scenes. Today’s film is the latest in the series of films with the same subject material, but from a new perspective.
“Kuntilanak”, today’s film, feels like two separate movies smashed together: one a well-crafted special effects horror film about a classic myth; the other a children’s film that reminds me of your average afterschool special from the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. The film opens with a scene involving the last family to be haunted by the spirit, where a young boy mistakes the vampire for his dead mother, and is pulled into the realm. It’s quite disturbing, with a huge smear of blood leading to the mirror. But then the film moves to introduce the five recently adopted orphans living with a rich matron, and the entire tone shifts to almost a guided morality tale, lighthearted, and with multiple instances of a particular dizzying tingling noise to punctuate when one of the children says something precocious. It’s not impossible to combine a children’s story with a horror film, and still have both tales be effective, as in “Super 8” or “Stranger Things”, which both somehow split the difference, but this film simply cannot do it, and by the fifth time I heard the accent noise for humor, I had simply lost faith in the film.
I’m not very encouraged by either Indonesian horror film that Netflix has picked up this year. I’m a huge fan of their action films, which bring a deadly seriousness and brutality, no doubt likely influenced by their generally violent history. I know I don’t have enough experience yet to make sweeping statements about the genre, but I sincerely hope Netflix is able to either fund or acquire better films from the film scene. I did feel, as with “The 3rdEye” (Episode #276), that most of the sets were too well lit for an effective horror film, but also felt the effects were still decent. In fact, the cast felt like the best part, with honest performances even when the story struggled with tone and more than a few plot holes.
“Kuntilanak” (2018) is a children’s horror film that lacks a consistent tone between the two major elements, more likely than not to frustrate horror fans. While the cast does well with what they were given, the other elements never seem to come together in a satisfying way. Fans of children’s horror films, who don’t mind putting the goofy next to the horrific, may enjoy this film, but consider this my most tentative recommendation yet.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 5.2/10
“Kuntilanak” (2018) is rated TV-14 and is currently streaming on Netflix.