Two horror gems in Malaysian cinemas worth discovering

AUGUST 8 ― More and more new movies are opening in Malaysian cinemas right now, but the line-up is still very much a horror-centric one as major Hollywood movies are still getting delayed (or getting pushed to streaming platforms, like Mulan which is now getting released on Disney+ instead of in cinemas).

The most exciting new release in Malaysian cinemas now, for me at least, is undoubtedly Kuman Pictures' second film Roh by Emir Ezwan.

Continuing with the money back guarantee that they practised with their first film Two Sisters, this new film Roh also comes with one, but subject to terms and conditions of course.

So there's extra inducement for you to come out and experience the film in cinemas, which should benefit even more in terms of atmosphere with the social distancing rules currently in place.

Apart from that, another interesting and very worthy film quietly opened in cinemas here last week in the form of Dave Franco's directorial debut, The Rental, so that makes at least two films that you should definitely try to check out in local cinemas right now.

There's another film, Legacy Of Lies, starring my favourite DTV action star right now Scott Adkins, that's also playing in Malaysian cinemas, but I just haven't managed to find the time to watch it.

And of course, streaming and VOD platforms can always be counted on for interesting genre fare, but I'll save those for next time since it's not that often we have this many quality fare playing in cinemas concurrently, especially during this post-movement control order (MCO) period.

The Rental

Undoubtedly the best film of this bunch, Dave Franco's (younger brother of James Franco who might be familiar from movies like Neighbors, The Disaster Artist, Now You See Me and lots more) directing debut The Rental is quite simply one of the year's most skillfully written and executed horror flick, and what a pleasant surprise to see it making its way into Malaysian cinemas.

A simple, minimalist set-up with mainly just five actors, one major location (a secluded, fancy house on top of a cliff facing the ocean) and endlessly creative ways of setting up and building tension, The Rental is an object lesson in how to create maximum impact using minimal resources.

It's about two couples renting a house for the weekend, made up of two brothers and their partners (the girlfriend of the younger brother is the business partner of the older brother) and the many secrets and lies that can result from that simple equation.

A neatly and ingeniously structured screenplay (by Franco and mumblecore legend Joe Swanberg, who's probably best known now as the creator of the Netflix series Easy) effortlessly sets up multiple precarious situations that slowly builds up inescapable tension, and it all pays off beautifully in the third act, with Franco showing plenty of talent for setting up shots that accentuate all this tension and suspense.

Because of the nature of its story and plotting, I shouldn't really reveal any more than that, but I can guarantee that you'll be more than impressed once you've finished watching this.

Roh

Another feature film debut arrives in Malaysian cinemas in the form of Roh by writer-director Emir Ezwan (who previously made a splash among Malaysian cinephiles with his short film RM10), and this one's definitely a keeper, very comfortably the best Malaysian horror film of the year, and a leading candidate for best Malaysian film of the year as well.

A folk horror tale, the film is set in an unnamed forest and during an unnamed period, which I'm sure everyone will assume is sometime in the past, when animism is still part and parcel of life on our shores.

Staying true to Kuman Pictures' modus operandi of operating on a set budget that most people would call quite low, this is another brilliantly managed and executed minimalist set-up with only about six actors and one major location, a little shack in the middle of the woods, but it definitely does not look low-budget on screen as Emir and the whole production team has managed to make the film rlook like a million bucks, with beautiful colour grading (something you don't often see in Malaysian films), classy art direction and solid sound design.

It's about a family of three encountering a feral little girl wandering alone and taking her in, not knowing the kind of evil that they've unknowingly invited into their lives by doing so.

It's a very atmospheric tale, with Emir and cinematographer Saifuddin Musa having a ball building up that foreboding atmosphere by simply photographing and observing that forest, taking a slow burn approach that might be a bit too slow for some people, but is totally fine by me.

In fact, this atmosphere building slow burn approach fits perfectly with the story the movie's trying to tell, and which will please fans of films like Onibaba and The VVitch.

And when the horror and gore parts come, it is more than worth the wait as they're absolutely brutal and unforgettable. Catch it now in the cinemas while you can.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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