Starting the year with horror remakes and superheroes

JANUARY 11 ― As expected in January every year, outside of Oscar bait films (which have not made their way here yet, as the distributors here often wait till February when the Oscar campaign has well and truly kicked off), there is a dearth of film offerings in cinemas, at least in terms of big Hollywood titles.

January is very often the month big studios dump films considered as some sort of “failure” and not worthy of a big and expensive promotional campaign.

So it's up to other films to fill the slots in local cinemas, and we can always depend on the horror scene to do that for us.

In the past couple of weeks, we had two horror remakes coming from Hollywood and even the latest Rapi Films horror remake/reboot (after the smashing success of Pengabdi Setan and Suzzanna Bernapas Dalam Kubur) arriving from Indonesia.

And I haven't even mentioned other Asian horror flicks opening this week like the Taiwan's Detention, Thailand's The Real Ghosts and Malaysia's Suraya.

There's also the highly anticipated Gundala, one of two Joko Anwar related movies opening in quick succession here, so it's definitely been a hectic start to the year, even without much contribution from the big Hollywood studios.

I, of course, made it a point to catch the two Joko Anwar related movies, and also managed to catch the two horror remakes from Hollywood.

So let's see how they fare, shall we?

Gundala

With the incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it's only natural that other companies would look to try and create their own cinematic universes as well.

This would be fully normal in Hollywood, but to see something like this attempted in Indonesia is definitely something else.

Gundala, directed by Joko Anwar (of Kala, Janji Joni, Pintu Terlarang and the Pengabdi Setan remake/reboot fame) is the first film in what will be the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (with seven superhero films announced last year involving popular characters like Sri Asih, Mandala, Godam and Si Buta Dari Gua Hantu).

As with any first films in a new cinematic universe, Gundala is an origin story, specifically about its lead character Sancaka, a boy who became an orphan when he was a kid, and his journey to become a man, and eventually the superhero Gundala.

As an origin story for Sancaka, which is the first half of this film, this one works beautifully, with Joko in complete control of his film's tone, and the actors in perfect sync with their characters.

It's after the first half of the film, especially its third act (and the absolutely bewildering climactic fight, wherein the many super villains seem to randomly come and go as the film pleases), that it became a bit of a mess as the film tries to handle one too many characters and subplots.

But make no mistake, the first two acts will make you forgive the mess that is the film's third act, and mark the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe as something to watch out for in the years to come.

Ratu Ilmu Hitam

If Gundala was a bit of a mess towards the end, there's none of that problem in the other Joko Anwar film that reached our shores last week.

Written by Joko and directed by Kimo Stamboel, one half of the The Mo Brothers directing team, Ratu Ilmu Hitam is another remake/reboot of films/characters from the Rapi Films stable, hot on the heels of Pengabdi Setan and Suzzanna Bernapas Dalam Kubur.

Without the benefit of having seen the original film from 1981 starring Suzanna, I can wholeheartedly say that this remake/reboot is a real blast.

After the pretty dreadful Dreadout, I was ready to be disappointed again by Kimo, but he has proven me wrong, gloriously, with a horror film almost as good as anything he's done with The Mo Brothers.

Taking only the concept of using witchcraft as a means of exacting revenge from the original film, Joko and Kimo have fashioned what's at first a fascinating mystery thriller, as the exact details and cause of the vengeance is skillfully placed at arm's length before the full extent of the tragedy is revealed, and then becoming a glorious bloodbath (complete with hysterically icky CGI involving bugs, centipedes, worms etc) that's become a trademark of The Mo Brothers.

A truly fun horror flick, I'd say it's even better than the Pengabdi Setan remake, so make of that what you will.

Black Christmas

Received with almost pure, 100 per cent bile by almost everyone in the horror fanboy community, this female-centric remake/reboot of Bob Clark's legendary 1974 proto-slasher, Black Christmas, is actually nowhere near as bad and despicable as its detractors are making it out to be.

After reading about it being a slasher movie with a PG-13 rating, I came out admiring what the movie's really about (and probably the reason why a lot of its detractors hated it) ― it's a movie that takes dead aim at misogyny and toxic masculinity, a feminist slasher flick for the #MeToo era, and hits these targets with a bullseye (albeit with all the subtleties of a jackhammer).

It's about a sorority girl and sexual assault survivor who's trying to put all of it behind her, and does so in a way that truly provokes the fraternity house of her assaulter.

It tries to illustrate the experience and frustrations of a sexual assault victim through the plot mechanics of a slasher film, which probably explains why the filmmakers opted for a PG-13 rating, so that young girls can watch it, and for that alone I salute director Sophie Takal and her co-writer April Wolfe.

Granted, it's not a horror masterpiece, but it does exactly what a good horror film should, using the comforts of genre to tackle a real world issue, and getting its points across.

The Grudge

Like Black Christmas, The Grudge also has a previous remake from the 2000s, so the question of how unnecessary another remake is will always hang above its head.

At least Black Christmas has an answer for that question with its position as a feminist slasher flick for the #MeToo era, but The Grudge, even with the up and coming horror auteur Nicolas Pesce (of the highly regarded The Eyes Of My Mother and Piercing fame) at its helm, unfortunately has no solid answer for that question.

Despite Pesce's best efforts to freshen things up with a non-linear structure, this remake/reboot is just another round of the same ol' story and scare tactics, with its sole claim to a bit of ingenuity lying in a short, but emotional revelation by one of its characters as to why he chose to remain in the house that's cursed with the vengeful spirit that has been the bread and butter of the whole series of Ju-On/Grudge films since it began.

It's not a bad film, but it's just unnecessary and quite simply unremarkable, and you can probably do something better with your hard earned cash than watch this.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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