Time for us to drop by Malaysia in search of ghostly horror goodness, courtesy of the recent pile of Malay DVD’s to reach your Favorite Catgirl’s mailbox. This time out it’s a peek at 2010’s horror thriller “Damping Malam”….
Synopsis? How about this?: “Damping Malam” is about a couple – Wadi (Ahmad Idham) and Ku Khalira (Amy Mastura) who have been married for 14 years and are blessed with a beautiful daughter – Nuraiza (Erynne Erynna). They are a liberal, modern family and Nuraiza is a bright student at school. The parents place more importance to worldly matters, so she isn’t brought up with much religious emphasis, despite also being raised by her mysterious aunt, Umi Siah (Azizah Mahzan). One day, Nuraiza leaves home to further her studies at boarding school and soon finds herself powerless to protect against dark powers due to her lack of proper religious teaching.”
Hmmmm? Sounds pretty good overall…. The poster certainly looks promising… and the Trailer makes it look like it’s just the sort of film I like. But I’ve been fooled before….
Still… with the bargain prices for Malay DVD’s, I can hardly go wrong giving this one a chance, and that’s always enough to tempt Neko into snatching up a copy for her very own. The fact that there were several other new ones to grab was just the icing on the cake.
So… Are you ready for some Islamic ghost action, Malay style? Then by all means, Gentle Visitor, “Read On” and let Neko tell you all about it!.
We get a tantalizing glimpse at the beginning of a mysterious sorcerer casting one of those summoning spells for some kind of nasty spirit, but don’t get to excited…. that passes pretty quickly without giving us much of a clue exactly what the heck we are in store for. It’s a jarring transition… but then this film is…. how shall we say… just a wee bit uncomfortable with it’s subject material to get comfy and go where most horror films want to go. Malay films can be like that… but this one more than most. A shame really, since the whole “family in supernatural danger” idea while hardly new, still has a lot of miles left in it to bring some serious chills and thrills.
But anyway… after this initial sorcery filled teaser, it’s off to a girls religious boarding academy of some sort where young 13 year old Aiza (played by Erynne Erynna) is going about her daily activities until she’s terrorized by some of the older girls at school with a fake “ghost attack” in the school bathroom. Ummmm…. exactly why they choose this particular bit of teasing isn’t really made clear, but Neko got the sense that Aiza might just have that whole “I see ghosts” thing going on… something that always creeps out everybody and makes you the victim of such bullying.
She our film’s heroine… or at least the closest thing we are going to get to one in “Damping Malam”. Naturally… she’s miserable at school…. and along with the bullying, is actually getting followed around by some sort of spirit taking the form of a girl who died there a while back. It’s making her a nervous wreck…. throw in the constant worrying of her mother who’s definitely having “separation anxiety” about her only daughter being away from home for the first time and you get the idea that something’s going to give out. Too bad her father seems oblivious to her and her plight.
And that’s basically where this one starts to go wrong, film-wise. Unfortunately, this one is one of those Malay films that assumes all women are basically stupid, superstitious, ruled by their petty instincts and badly need the guidance of a man to make everything alright. In this case, husband and father Wadi (played by Ahmad Idham), who is portrayed as a modern, logical, successful man saddled with a neurotic insecure wife (played by Amy Mastura) and a daughter who desperately needs to be forced into the expected “mold” to make her the proper young Malay woman she should be. It’s infuriating to see him disregard their wishes and feelings on just about everything even when it’s painfully obvious that his wife would calm down and his daughter would be OK if he only let her return home. Grrrrr!!! Stop making this lil’ Catgirl cranky, you silly Malay guys!!
Sigh…. I suppose I really shouldn’t get as worked up as I do when the plot of a foreign movie swings into this sort of distasteful direction, but even as open minded as I am, it always bothers me to see such foolishly outdated ideas passed off as “accepted cultural norms” with such ease here in the 21st century. You can assume that this underlying idea would color my enjoyment of the rest of this film, and you’d be right. But it gets worse…. The “Forces of Good”…. represented here by Wadi’s old college friend Bakri (played by Eizlan Yusof) a Holy man or scholar of some sort who spends most of the film merely as in impotent observer, completely unable (or unwilling…) to step in a take any direct action against the “evil presence” he constantly admits feeling but fails to do anything useful about. About all he seems to be good for is telling his old friend that someone in his household is trafficking in “forbidden practices”….. and apparently that means they deserve the nasty things that are coming. Some big help…. What happened to the Muslim Holy Guy from “Congkak”? They could sure use him here…
So that only leaves Aiza’s aunt, Umi Siah (played by Azizah Mahzan) to stand between her and the evil thing trying to get her. She’s old and wise, and she knows all the secrets of her side of the family and the old mystic pact the family has maintained for generations. She ought to be able to do something to save Aiza, right? Nope… She’s never given the chance…. due to the preachy “message” our film has which was becoming painfully clear by now. Become involved in the use of Forbidden magic, and you get abandoned by the Almighty to suffer terribly. Even if you are an innocent little girl. Grrrr!! Grrrr!! GRRRR!!!
So… basically how does this all play out? Badly, I’m sorry to say. Nobody does anything useful…. the spirit kills Aiza… her mother gets the blame for using magic to try to save her failing marriage…. and that’s about it. Oh, except for the stupid ending narration as Aiza’s mother grieves over her daughters grave all about how good Malay women should strive to do all the “wifely” things expected of them by culture and religion lest this fate be theirs as well. GRRRR!! GRRRR!! GRRRR!!
As you can guess by now… “Damping Malam” joins a select few films that have made your Favorite Catgirl seriously cranky over the years. That’s a real shame too… As Malay films go, this one had a real slick and polished look with good acting and cinematography and even a promising basic idea behind it’s plot. If it hadn’t felt the need to cater to a seriously hateful misogynistic segment of the Malay audience still clinging to a lot of outdated gender ideas it could have been a good film. But it isn’t. I give this one barely 2 “Meows” out of 5 and recommend you steer well clear if you don’t share those views of women in this supposedly enlightened age. It’s not enough to put me off Malay films forever… but it’s certainly set me back a bit in my opinion of them.
There’s a Trailer, of course… and despite my cranky opinion on this one, here it is for you own viewing pleasure.