Well… while wading through the avalanche of DVD’s in my recent “To Watch” pile, this Indonesian one finally caught my eye again. The cover is certainly striking with it’s neat “skull illusion” thingee…. So naturally it moved right up to the top of the pile…. (and they say that what sells a movie more than anything else is a decent bit of poster art.. I guess they’re right….)
Our synopsis goes like this: “In the days leading up to her wedding, Abel (played by Nadine Chandrawinata) is visited at her home by a pregnant woman, Lisa, who claims she’s carrying the child of her fiance, Wisnu (Yama Carlos). Shocked by this revelation, Abel feels utterly betrayed and decides to kill herself. She fails in her suicide attempt and falls into a coma for a time.
Now troubled and depressed, she is comforted by her best friend, Charlie (played by Keith Foo), who asks her to take some time off at a rundown mansion he owns well away from Jakarta and her problems. Strange events begin to occur as it seems the house is haunted by apparitions of the dead. Something from Abel’s brief brush with death seems to be following her and the only way she can escape it is if she dies once again.”
Hmmmm? Well that sounds all pretty standard for an Indonesian ghost film. But Neko lives in hope for that creepy lil’ gem that will rival my favorite Indonesian horror film, “Kuntilanak”, and with that film’s director Rizal Mantovani on board for this one as well, maybe this one is finally gonna be the one!! Let’s all “Read On” and find out… shall we?
So to get started for this one, we need to understand the film’s title…. “Mati Suri” seems to translate from the Indonesian as “Apparently Dead or Comatose” but Neko prefers the perhaps less accurate but more effective “At Death’s Door” as a fitting translation. Seems in Indonesia a person in a coma is actually considered to be already dead although they may recover. This idea is the crux of the story here…. and we start off pretty quickly with the film’s heroine Abel planning her dream wedding to her fiancee Wisnu only to have her happiness shattered by a visit from a pregnant stranger named Lisa who shows up at Abel’s door that very day, claiming to know her fiance Wisnu very…. very… well. Right off the bat, she claims that Wisnu is the father of her unborn child…. no beating about the bush here. Abel refuses to believe her story but she has all sorts of intimate photos of herself together with Wisnu to show Abel as proof of her claim. After Lisa leaves, Abel immediately calls up Wisnu to confront him about this only to angrily hang up on him before he can really explain anything. Unable to deal with the prospect of Wisnu’s unfaithfulness, she goes a bit over the edge and tries suicide by sleeping pills. Wisnu races home to try to stop her; but fortunately her best friend Charlie manages to find her before she dies, and takes her to the hospital first.
They manage to save her, but Abel lingers in a coma… she’s become “Mati Suri”, and even the doctor seems completely comfortable about the idea that she’s dead, but not completely dead…. it’s weird to hear them discuss Abel like that, but it’s fitting for what’s to come. Her best friend, Charlie stays by her side throughout her coma. He’s a really nice, good-looking, bespectacled guy who obviously has this huge crush on Abel but hides it from her since she’s never seen him as anything more than a close friend. Charlie gets all in Wisnu’s face when he finally shows up, telling him to beat it and all but accusing him of forcing Abel to do what she did. Eventually she awakens from her coma…. confused and with blanks in her memory she finds herself with Charlie on their way to a country estate he owns waaaay out in the wilderness, where he tells Abel she can take all the time she needs to forget her problems while helping him re-decorate the place. He’s got some idea to open it up as a “bread and breakfast” place for tourists to rent…. it seems like a good idea… at first. Having business back in Jakarta, he leaves her to be watched over by his caretakers, an elderly couple who tend to the property and who live nearby.
Problem is… Abel’s been hallucinating since she woke up briefly in the hospital…. and now here out in the creepy mansion it’s only getting worse. She’s starts seeing ghosts… especially the ghost of a little girl who died in the hospital just as Abel was brought in before her coma. She follows Abel around… tormenting her by telling her over and over that “Suicide is a sin!!!” and threatening her with the grim warning that Death is coming for her. Occasionally, in dreams, Abel finds herself in a dark corridor where the little girl…. less terrifying and scary, tries to get her to follow her down it towards a blinding light to an unknown fate. Fearful and confused, Abel always refuses to go…. so the ghost keeps haunting her.
Back in Jakarta, Wisnu tries desperately to find Abel and explain himself, but Charlie refuses to tell him where she’s gone to and it’s then that we start to wonder if Wisnu really is the bastard he’s been painted as. Meanwhile… back at the estate, the creepy caretaker’s wife tells Abel not to be frightened if something should happen at night, or if anybody should come to her. Of course, that very first evening, Abel does indeed get a visitor, who frightens her… but it turns out only to be the caretakers’ teenage daughter Wida, who says she’s come to keep her company in the lonely old house. Wida begs Abel not to tell her parents she’s staying with her though, or Wida could get in trouble for bothering her despite Charlie’s orders to her parents that Abel should have her privacy. Abel agrees, but strangely enough, the next morning, the old woman denies ever having said anything to Abel the day before about anything odd happening.
The hauntings continue…. and other spirits start appearing to Abel both in her dreams and in her waking moments trying continuously to tempt her to suicide again as she wanders about the estate trying to lose herself in the job of planning the re-decoration. Remember…. Abel is still suffering the effects of her coma… the blackouts and the memory lapses, so it’s hard to tell if these specters are real or only in her confused mind. It’s here where the film is at it’s best…. blurring the line between fantasy and reality….. the overall effect very Gothic and eerie. A version of herself even appears, trying to tempt her…. and by now, Death itself has begun to appear… just out of reach… in the form of our old friend, the pocong, his shrouded form always at the edge of her vision.
It’s “Spoiler Alert!!” time…. as the one big plot twist happens now to throw an entire new angle on things. Wisnu… it seems… isn’t a two timing bastard after all. He finally tracks down Lisa…. an obviously not pregnant Lisa… who tells him the whole story was something she’d been paid to set up to ruin his marriage and drive Abel away from him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the one who paid her is our boy Charlie. But….. that’s not the worst thing.
Charlie is…. well…. the polite term Neko likes to use would be; “nuttier than the rat poop in a peanut factory”….. and he has a fatal obsession with Abel that has lead him to basically use this whole plot as a way to lure her here to the estate where he can keep her here forever by drugging her with the help of his caretakers to satisfy this crazy need to possess her. Whoops!! Our boy Wisnu better get a move on!!
Wisnu races to the estate with Lisa to confront Charlie and prove himself to Abel before it’s too late. Mind you… he doesn’t know just how crazy Charlie really is… and ends up getting socked upside the head by the caretaker and tied up in Charlie’s “special secret nutjob shrine” to Abel. You know the one…. it’s got all the pictures and candles and little bits of her hair and those crazy writing all over the wall….. like every psycho keeps for their “girlfriend”. Then… to fix things good, he kills Lisa and dumps her body in the grungy estate swimming pool. Neko started really getting into things at this point…. and you just know what’s gonna happen next…. Yep. Seems Wida isn’t alive anymore either…… it’s her spirit that’s been keeping Abel company since Charlie went all nutty and drowned her in the pool too. Her mom finds out that Abel can see Wida, and decides to save her from her insane employer….. but it’s too late.
Charlie’s not gonna let Abel go without a fight…. and if killing her is what it’ll take to keep her with him forever… well, he’s OK with that idea too. So it’s the standard chase around the haunted estate ending at the creepy old swimming pool where he’s dumped the bodies of both Wida and Lisa…. big… big… BIG mistake for Charlie going anywhere near there…. it only gives those two angry spirits the chance to grab him but good and drag him kicking and screaming to his well deserved death. Wisnu finally manages to get to Abel…. as she is finally being led away in her dreams by the little girl, down that long dark tunnel towards the next life…… but he manages to reach her even there, professing his love for her and begging her not to leave him alone. She awakens…. back in the hospital where we all started this story. Seems none of it was real…. just her traumatized mind playing tricks on her as she hovered near the edge of death. All the stuff about Charlie and the estate… never happened…. although the doctors tell her her mind knew the truth about Charlie all along and used that to fabricate her experience…. (Say What?!?… Naw… Don’t let that bit of implausibility spoil things… Just roll with it….)
But….. then she wakes in a car with Wisnu…. driving somewhere suspiciously the way she and Charlie did in her “dream”…. and end up at the haunted estate!! What?!? Huh?? How??…. Just then…. Wisnu tells her “What? You thought you were awake? Don’t you know you can only escape from Death by dying again?” Time to cue Zombie Charlie…. and the haunting torture begins again…… for you see, “Suicide is a Sin!!” Cue the end credits!!
So…. your Favorite Catgirl Princess seems to have gotten her wish, after all!! “Mati Suri”, while not the most original of films, does what few other Indonesian horror films have lately… it entertained me and gave me quite a few nice moments with some well used scares and effective ghosts. Couple that together with a clever plot that both borrows and pays homage to other classic horror films such as “The Sixth Sense”, the beloved long haired ghosts of countless Japanese horror films, “The Others” and even “Congkak”, flashes of “Psycho” and some of Mantovani’s earlier “Kuntilanak”, with it’s dark, spooky and deadly serious suspense and we have a real gem here. A true simple, unpretentious, horror movie that leaves the viewer with plenty of scary images to ponder while even managing to deliver an Islamic warning about the Sin of Suicide without being preachy or overbearing (Which sometimes is a problem in both Indonesian or Malay films…). Add to it a nice love story that actually has a guy who’s not screwing around on his girlfriend while still claiming to love her and you’ve got a very happy Catgirl indeed!! The acting is very good… in particular Nadine Chandrawinata, Miss Indonesia of 2005, who does a very credible job as Abel. The others are good as well…. never letting themselves descend into the lame comedy that sometimes creeps into Indonesian films for no good reason the way music seems to infect Hindi ones…. Rizal Mantovani has pulled off another winner, and while it’s not as sharp as his first horror film, “Kuntilanak” it is a close second, and firmly shows him to be about the only Indonesian director capable of going for a horror film the way it needs to be done. Bravo!!
The Indonesian disc is well produced, with the usual excellent English subtitling and some nice trailers for some other films… (Yes… Neko’s looking for some of those as well….Hehehehe!!) all for the very nice price of around 10$ US. So…. ,in conclusion, I give this one a more than well deserved 4 “Meows” out of 5 for finally showing me that the Indonesians still do know how to be scary when they wanna!! Yay!! And Rizal Mantovani…. this lil’ Catgirl hopes there’s even more horror movies on your “to do” list….. I’ll be watchin”…..
Oh yes…. There’s a nice Trailer available and naturally, as always, Neko’s got ya all covered!!