Here's proof that limitations are not a hindrance to creativity

OCTOBER 2 ― With the latest Netflix hit series Squid Game creating huge ripples among fans around the globe, it’s inevitable that a lot of casual Malaysian film fans have begun asking the oft-repeated question: Why aren’t Malaysian filmmakers doing something like this? Some in the industry are even sniping back with calls to consider the kind of budget and time constraints that are the norm here.

Both parties are right in their own way, because as fans of course we’d want to see something that excites us but as filmmakers and producers, the fact remains the low budgets available here means that trying to produce something as slick as that is a very tall order indeed.

Both parties are also, in a way, missing the mark because just like in real life, we need to live within our means, so when it comes to making films, we need to come up with something that’s achievable within our budget constraints.

The masses may only be familiar with one type of movie, which is your usual slick Hollywood product, but there are plenty of other types of films to make out there.

If Blumhouse can churn out films mostly on a US$1 million (RM4.1 million) to US$3 million budget when the average Hollywood film costs at least US$30 million to make, clearly there are other ways to keep the budget down without sacrificing quality and entertainment value, and clearly also, low budgets don’t necessarily mean low quality.

In short, conceive of a small-scale film from the get go, but make up for that small scale in other ways. Situating most of the film’s action in a single location would already save a lot of money usually spent on logistics and costs involved to rent, set-dress and prepare a new location, not to mention the time saved.

The US indie horror scene has been doing this for a long time, so it’s still surprising that not many filmmakers here (aside from the Kuman Pictures gang, that is) have picked up on that trick.

I saw another bunch of these single-location horror flicks the past few weeks, and here are three that have managed to pull it off pretty well.

We Need To Do Something

Set entirely inside a bathroom, wherein a family of four takes shelter from a storm, director Sean King O’Grady’s feature film debut is a hugely impressive and ambitious exercise in forced perspective.

A fallen tree outside the bathroom door means the family is now trapped inside the bathroom, giving the whole thing an allegorical bent when one substitutes “storm” for Covid-19 and “fallen tree” for mandatory self-isolation.

But the horrors here are not just of the mental kind, as the story becomes crazier and crazier as the film progresses, hinting at something a bit more supernatural happening to the family.

Armed with a wicked sense of humour, O’Grady has crafted something quite unpredictable (which is quite an achievement in itself, since this is horror we’re talking about) and entertaining, all from within just a single location.

A screenshot of a scene from ‘Superhost’.
A screenshot of a scene from ‘Superhost’.

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A Shudder Original that’s a lot more fun than I expected it to be, Superhost is kind of like last year’s outstanding The Rental, but this time with influencers as its leads.

Teddy and Claire are travel vloggers with a channel focusing on their experiences in vacation homes, and are very excited because they’ve finally managed to secure a place that’s so popular and so well-reviewed that it’s been really hard to book.

Their host Rebecca is very clearly not quite right in the head... you can tell just by observing the way she reacts to things.

There are some twists and turns in the story, especially a climactic twist that’s clearly inspired by Psycho, but what really makes the movie is the wonderfully unhinged performance from Gracie Gillam as Rebecca.

Set within and around just that one location, director Brendan Christensen (who made Still/Born and Z) has delivered a really fun, slick, if a tad predictable, horror flick.

The Old Ways

Other than a few location flashbacks, The Old Ways is set entirely within a room in ramshackle house belonging to a bruja (Mexican witchdoctor), which the protagonist Cristina wakes up in, finding herself chained and tied to the wall.

Cristina is a reporter for a Vice-like publication, seeking stories in places other reporters would generally avoid, which was how she found herself kidnapped when coming back to her hometown in Mexico to do a story on La Boca, a sort of forbidden cave near the village where she grew up.

The film wastes no time in establishing things, even throwing in the first of its many exorcism scenes in the first act, with Cristina finding out that there’s a demon inside her.

Muppets Now director Christopher Alender has a lot of fun upending the usual tropes of the exorcism movie here, partly thanks to the exotic nature of brujeria (Mexican witchcraft), which provides us with plenty of new things to look at like snakes and spirit surgery (it’s funny how similar our superstitions here are to the ones in Mexico), but also partly thanks to the great effects work on show here.

In short, this is one of the most exciting exorcism movies in recent memory, and the fact that it’s mostly set in one location makes it an even more impressive achievement.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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