Ooooh! This time out, it’s off to exotic Malaysia for your Favorite Catgirl and a tale of envy, evil, and the wicked curse of Black Sorcery that is “Santau”.
It’s been a while since I got anything from Malaysia…. most of my horror goodies from that part of the world come out of Indonesia, but every now and again the Malays surprise me with something homegrown in the way of creepy movies.
“Chermin” remains one of my favorites, and “Congkak” wasn’t too bad at all, so will “Santau” deliver the scares for me as well? The Trailer certainly looked promising…. enough that when I finally sniffed out a copy of this one and it’s “oh so nice” English subtitles, it wasn’t too hard to twist my lil’ arm into ordering it up for my very own.
Our synopsis for it reads like this: “Halim (Esma Daniel) and Nina (Putri Mardiana) live together with their daughter Tuti (Farisha Fatin) in a modern Malay village. Halim is successful in his career and leads a harmonious life with his family. Their neighbor is also a married couple; Usin (Riezman Khuzaimi) and Ana (Lis Dawati), while the other neighbor’s home is empty and waiting for new tenants to move in.
After a new neighbor moves in, Halim’s family begin to experience strange and horror incidents inside their home. Tuti starts to witness various mysterious events while Nina often experiences strange incidents that have never happened before. The strangest part is it all happens when Halim is away and he only comes home late at night.
Nina begins to gradually change from a good and hardworking wife to a lazy and bad-tempered wife. Each day there are things that happen that can wreck the family relationships. As a successful person, Halim does not believe of paranormal stories when Tuti complains about it.
One day Nina begins experiencing abdominal pain and Halim brings her to clinic for medical checkup. The doctor confirms gastric existence inside Nina’s stomach. However Tuti suspects his mother has been possessed by spirits.
One night, Halim returns home after Tuti informs him that Nina has been possessed and keep screaming at home. Halim finally brings Nina to see a shaman. The shaman confirms Nina has been possessed due to jealousy of Halim’s successful career and having a happy family.
Halim feels surprised by this revelation. How can Halim handle his family problem? Who is actually the mastermind behind this problem?”
Well….. it most certainly sounds like we might just have been down this story plot a few times before. A bad thing? Hmmmmm? The jury is still out on that one, and surely the only way to know for certain is to “Read On” o’ Gentle Visitor and find out!
So Ok….. From the moment this one starts out, you’ll have a definite feeling of Deja Vu. We first see the hands of an evil sorcerer at work…. You know the drill, lots of weird smoke, strange nameless herbs and ritual tools all being used to cast some sort of evil spell. No big surprise there, and it isn’t long before we meet honest hard working family man, Halim (played by Esma Danial). He’s a young successful engineer with a loving wife, Nina (played by Putri Mardiana), and an adorable lil’ girl (played by Farisha Fatin) named Aishya (I think…. the subtitles also refer to her as Ecah…. so I’m not really certain…) Starting to get that feeling you’ve been here before? Yep… if you’ve seen the Hindi horror film “Phoonk” you’re pretty much in that same sort of story here. Luckily… as it turns out… that’s a very good thing.
Seems somebody close to Halim and his family has a bit of a grudge against him and his seemingly perfect life. At a number of times throughout, he constantly gets told “Some Malays can’t stand to see the success of others…”. They aren’t kidding either. The unknown villain feeds his burning envy with a secret black sorcery attack aimed at ruining Halim’s happiness at all costs. Now our hero Halim is a pious Muslim man, but he’s a thoroughly modern guy too, so he’s quick to dismiss these veiled warnings of curses and danger. Boy is he in for a surprise…..
There also his new neighbors…… Yep, if your favorite Catgirl had to pick out a likely suspect for these creepy goings on, it most certainly would be these guys. Seems the husband has absolutely mastered that creepy scowl that every nasty anti social loner should have. At the very least… he’s worth keeping an eye on. But nope. Halim is quicker than his counterpart in “Phoonk” in coming to understand something supernatural is afoot but no closer to getting a handle on who’s after him. Even when lil’ Aishya starts finding a ghost under her bed and Nina starts getting possessed by the hungry spirit of some old hag from time to time.
Here’s where “Santau” really goes for it. Nina certainly goes all out in the gross out department hungrily scarfing down oodles of worms and maggots and other disgusting stuff. She’s certainly got the “bat shit crazy” look going on too with plenty of screen time scaring the snot out of people with the standard “Lookie at me! I’m Possessed!!” shtick. The makeup and special effects here are good… top notch for a Malay film, and actress Putri Mardiana gives it everything she’s got to make you really buy her situation. Sure, it’s somewhat two dimensional, but all in all it works (As it usually does…. if you make the effort, as a filmmaker that is.)
Naturally though, there has to be a twist in the plot, just to throw a little spice into things. That turns out to be the real identity of the sorcerer. It’s not Mr. Creepy Guy, Oom from next door….. that would just be too easy. Our wierd guy Oom’s just a spiritualist it seems, who can see ghosts and spirits and gets all grumpy about constantly being sucked into other peoples problems. It’s why he had to move from wherever he used to live and he just wants to avoid trouble….. too bad for Oom. So…. who really wants to screw with poor Halim? Well… Neko’s not gonna tell ya, so there!
Let’s just say we spend the rest of the film looking for somebody powerful enough to cast off the evil Jins that the sorcerer has sent to bedevil Halim and his family. It’s kind of strange to see him going from wizard to holy man to spiritualist on his way to the final holy guy. Sorta makes me wonder who in Malaysia doesn’t have a selection of mystic mojo right at their fingertips….. Halim certainly doesn’t, but practically everybody else in this film’s got something up their sleeve for when the ghosties and naughty ol’ Satan comes a knockin’……
Now…. You’ve got to remember…. this is a Malay film, so there wont be any serious bloodshed on display outside of a little back seat wrestling and some ear chewing by Nina on her hubby Halim (Although they did push the gross factor pretty hard as far as the censors would probably allow…) and, of course, the ultimate result has to be the unambiguous triumph of Allah over the Forces of Evil…. that’s a given…. but as I said earlier, that all actually works pretty well given this simple plot. Hey, a story about Black Magic curses and evil witchcraft worked in India, it works in Thailand, the Shaw Brothers made it work in Hong Kong….. and yes, it works here in Malaysia too.
This film works on all those levels, and looks very slick and modern all at the same time. Your Favorite Catgirl Princess is used to far cheaper looking films coming out of Malaysia… and that’s not the case here. “Santau” is a very professional film that shows that the Malay film industry can really pull it off when they want to. I truly enjoyed it…. it’s fun, creepy, a wee bit scary, and the Muslim exorcisms stuff certainly gives it a flavor all it’s own. It’s a shame this one will probably fade away without getting seen here on this side of the Pacific outside of a few odd film fans like me. I give it a well deserved 4 “Meows” out of 5 for being a tight, well acted and easily understood horror film with a comfortably familiar plot that delivers exactly what it sets out to deliver for a viewer. That, my Gentle visitors, isn’t a bad thing at all…. trust me.
The DVD itself, is excellent. Done in an All Region PAL letterboxed format with excellent English subs as well as Chinese and Malay subs on board too, it has adequate chapters (6 in all) as well as a Trailer and some other coming attractions…. all for about 6$ US for the Malay release. Perfect for a night of budget scares from the mysterious East…… It’s likely to fade away soon, so if you are even a little intrigued, I’d say snap up a copy now, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Oh, my goodness…… Yep… we got us a Trailer alright, and here it goes!