VAMPIRES vs. THE BRONX (2020)
Fun flick has three friends, Miguel “Little Mayor” Martinez (Jaden Michael), Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III) and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) having more to worry about than the mysterious Murnau Properties realty company buying up homes and businesses all over town. Miguel and his friends come to believe the new folks moving into the Bronx are vampires and their plans are far more sinister than simply gentrifying the neighborhood.
Horror comedy is directed with a nice balance of both by Oz Rodriguez from his script with Blaise Hemingway. It also adds a nice dose of ethnic flavor from the varied peoples of this Bronx neighborhood and a strong sense of community. Rodriguez presents his story seriously enough, so the vampires have threat and the themes of urban gentrification and the dangers of inner city life are not lost. At the same time, we are entertained, as “Little Mayor” and his buds try to convince everyone that vampires have come to the Bronx and, of course, no one believes them. Michael, Jones and Diaz make an endearing trio of good friends turned vampire hunters, trying to preserve the only life they know, while Sarah Gadon makes a sexy and sinister vampire lord trying to take it from them. All the cast are good, with those portraying neighbors adding character and bringing cultural nuances to their roles, while those playing vampires are threatening enough to give their bloodsuckers menace. A fun and family friendly kids vs. monsters movie that may be predictable at times, but is still a really good time nonetheless. Also stars Shea Whigham as a vampire familiar realtor, Cliff “Method Man” Smith as the local priest and a cameo by Zoe Saldana as a nail salon owner. Vampires vs. The Bronx can be found streaming on Netflix!
THE DOLL (2016)
Daniel (Denny Sumargo) has a problem his first day supervising a construction site. There is a creepy looking doll up in a tree and his workers are afraid to cut it down. The doll is supposedly the property of a little girl that was murdered and the superstitious workers are afraid they will anger her spirit. So, Daniel comes to the only logical course of action…he takes the doll home to his pretty wife Anya (Shandy Aulia). I think you all know what happens next.
Indonesian horror is nothing new story-wise, but director Rocky Soraya, from his script with Riheam Junianti, has fun with it. If you’ve seen even one possessed doll movie than you’ve seen most everything presented here, save for a fun attack by a swarm of bats. Soraya obviously has a love for these type of movies and it translates to the film, even if it adds little new to the creepy doll sub-genre. His cast play it straight and pretty Shandy Aulia makes for a good heroine, as the terrified Anya, who always seems to find herself alone in the couple’s expansive new house with the possessed doll. Like his 3rd Eye movies, Soraya makes this one look good and knows his tropes well and effectively rolls them out. The make-up and FX crew do good work and the haunted toy looks effectively creepy. If you can get past a guy bringing this ugly doll home to his wife, even after hearing it’s back story, you might have a good time with this. Soraya and Riheam Junianti would team for two more of these flicks, which are all streaming on Netflix. Also stars Sara Wijayanto as the “Lorraine Warren” of the flick, Mrs. Laras, who has a past with the doll.
THE 3RD EYE 2 aka MATA BATIN 2 (2012)
Sequel has sisters Alia (Jessica Mila) and Abel (Bianca Hello) now trying to use their third eye sight to help spirits in need. A tragic occurrence has Alia wanting to start a new life and she goes to work at an orphanage. Fate, however, has other ideas and Alia once again finds herself immersed in a mystery and surrounded by spirits both in need and out for revenge. Worse still, this haunted house, and the ghosts within, may hold the truth to Alia’s own recent, painful loss.
Indonesian horror sequel is once again directed by Rocky Soraya from a script with Riheam Junianti. They once more borrow from many a supernatural thriller, though, at least some of it is intentional, such as a fun homage to Friday the 13th Part 3. You’ll know it when you see it. This flick does feel a bit more of it’s own thing, like some spooky sequences set inside the spirit portal, despite there still being a lot familiar. Jessica Mila once again makes a good heroine as Alia. She’s likable, caring and gutsy. Citra Prima also returns as intense spiritualist Mrs. Windu and the new cast members all perform well, too. Soraya does get good work from his actors in his flicks. The make-up and gore are again well rendered and the visual FX a bit stronger this time. As a supernatural mystery thriller, this sequel is entertaining and has some surprises, though it is also a bit overlong and can get somewhat repetitive at times. Rocky Soraya does have a good visual eye for how a horror flick should look. He also knows to present his material seriously, as something like this could get very silly…and almost does a few times. Sequel is also on Netflix like it’s predecessor.
THE 3RD EYE aka MATA BATIN (2017)
Flick has sisters Alia (Jessica Mila) and teen Abel (Bianca Hello) returning to their childhood home after an accident claims the lives of their parents. Abel is afraid, as she feels there is something unnatural in the house. Alia and Abel go to a spiritualist, Mrs. Windu (Citra Prima), who informs them Abel can see the dead because her spiritual third eye is open. To understand what is occurring, Alia asks to have hers opened as well, to see what Abel sees. Be careful what you wish for, as Alia not only finds that the house has a tragic past, but becomes plagued with visions and attacks from spirits both benign and malevolent.
Derivative but fun Indonesian horror is directed by Rocky Soraya from his cliché ridden script with Riheam Junianti. They borrow things from Poltergeist to The Sixth Sense and everything in between, but it is fun to watch as they do try hard to deliver something spooky, even if we have seen it all before. Heck, they even throw in an exorcism for good measure! It’s not very scary, a few effective moments aside, but it is entertaining and pretty Jessica Mila makes a solid, beleaguered heroine as Alia. The rest of the cast are good too, with Citra Prima giving spiritualist Mrs. Windu some nice gusto and Bianca Hello being endearing as Abel. There is some cheesy CGI, but most of the FX are done live with well rendered make-up and gore FX and Soraya has a nice visual eye. Amusing flick is currently streaming on Netflix along with it’s sequel. Also stars Denny Sumargo (The Doll) as Alia’s boyfriend Davin.
2020: THE YEAR THAT PUT INDONESIAN HORROR ON THE MAP!
Maya (Tara Basro) returns to her birthplace to find a decades old curse that’s marked her for death in the Indonesian horror Impetigore.
The horror genre is no stranger to Indonesian cinema, in fact they make spooky flicks quite prolifically. It’s just that, up till now, this was only known to die hard horror movie buffs and dedicated cinephiles. That may have changed this year, thanks to streaming networks like Shudder and Netflix, whose acquiring of some recent titles has brought Indonesia’s horror cinema to mainstream attention…and availability! Film’s like Netflix’s May The Devil Take You and Shudder’s Impetigore have gotten solid reviews for being really spooky and well made movies. It’s also brought much deserved attention to not only their respective writer/directors, Timo Tjahjanto and Joko Anwar, but their resilient final girls Chelsea Islan (May The Devil Take You, May The Devil Take You Too) and Tara Basro (Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore), as well. This has also brought attention to the fact that Netflix has numerous other Indonesian horror offerings such as The 3rd Eye franchise, The Doll and Kuntilanak, and the same goes with Sudder, Amazon Prime and Tubi. Now everyone is aware of what only a few movie fans have known for some time and thanks to these streaming networks, we have a whole new world of horror flicks to choose from!
Four recent releases that helped put Indonesian horror on the map!
(To get to our reviews of the flicks covered here, click on the highlighted titles!)
2018 Indonesian horror May The Devil Take You has teen Alfie (Chelsea Islan) and her step-siblings paying the price for their father’s occult practices.
THE CALL (2020)
Korean chiller has Kim Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye) returning to her childhood home to visit her sick mother (Kim Sung-ryung). She looses her cellphone and is forced to use an old mobile phone left at the house. Soon she is getting phone calls from a girl, Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo), who claims to live in the same house, but twenty years earlier…a girl who has been dead for two decades. Their paths having crossed in 1999, when she was a child, Kim Seo-yeon uses her connection to the past to save her father’s (Park Ho-san) life and in return, uses her knowledge in present day to save Oh Young-sook from being killed by her abusive mother (Lee El)…or so she’s been lead to believe. Oh Young-sook turns out to be deranged and homicidal and her strict, religious mother, thinking she’s possessed, killed her. Now alive and unleashed, Oh Young-sook preys on Kim Seo-yeon and her family from twenty years earlier, leaving the woman helpless as the serial killer carves a trail of bodies two decades in the past.
Film is written and well directed by Lee Chung-hyun, based on the 2011 film The Caller (reviewed HERE). Lee Chung-hyun takes the basic plot in his own direction and uses it effectively, as Kim Seo-yeon unleashes a monster and is helpless as the young psychopath starts killing people two decades earlier in 1999. People who now disappear from the present. The tension builds, as the young killer threatens Kim Seo-yeon’s family, unless the woman uses her future knowledge to help Oh Young-sook evade capture and even death. The further this “relationship” goes, the more demented the girl gets and the closer she gets to taking away the father Kim Seo-yeon has regained and the mother, who is now completely healthy. The film cleverly and effectively shows the effects of the sadistic Oh Young-sook changing the past and removing people who were still alive in Kim Seo-yeon’s present. There is some shocking and impactful violence and some solid intensity and suspense, especially in the last act. The cast is very good, with Park Shin-hye making a likable and sympathetic heroine and Jeon Jong-seo making a very good villain/serial killer. Unnecessary downer ending aside, it’s a quasi remake that improves upon a well intentioned but flawed original. Known in it’s native South Korean as simply Call, flick is currently streaming on Netflix.
DON’T LISTEN aka VOCES (2020)
Spanish supernatural thriller finds house flipper Daniel (Rodolfo Sancho) moving into a new project with his wife Sara (Belén Fabra) and his young son Eric (Lucas Blas). Eric claims to be hearing voices, but his parents and psychologist (Beatriz Arjona) think it is simply the effect of moving so much on a lonely boy. When Eric dies tragically, Daniel begins to hear voices too and seeks the help of a paranormal investigator (Ramón Barea) and his daughter (Ana Fernández). What they find is Daniel’s worst nightmare as there is an evil entity in this new house and it wants vengeance on any who enter.
Haunted house flick is directed well by Ángel Gómez Hernández from a script and story by he, Santiago Díaz, Víctor Gado and Juan Moreno. Hernández creates an atmospheric and spooky story, as the grieving Daniel finds out there is a horrible history attached to this new house and the spirit of a vengeful witch on top of that. He and his fellow writers create some likable and sympathetic characters, in the grieving Daniel, the sweet and scared Eric, and the paranormal investigators with a personal loss of their own. It gives the film some nice emotional depth and the audience becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Hernández keeps the spooky stuff in-camera, with no CGI and the flick presents it’s subject with a subtle hand, until the chilling last act. What little blood or gore there is, is very effective when it comes. The cast are all good and the make-up FX, portraying our witch, are very well rendered, but used sparingly, so as not to loose their potency. It also has a chilling ending that will stick with you after it’s over. Hernández knows the tropes well and how to use them effectively. A very entertaining and spooky haunted house tale that will keep you looking at all parts of the picture frame for lurking spooks, just like The Haunting of Hill House. Watch through the credits for an additional scene and look out for a fun cameo from frequent creature performer Javier Botet as himself at a book signing. Flick is currently streaming on Netflix.
HIS HOUSE (2020)
Supernatural chiller finds Sudanese refugees Boi (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) seeking asylum in England. They are put on probation and sent to live in a small, decrepit house in a London ghetto. Still grieving over loosing their daughter (Malaika Abigaba) durning their harrowing escape, the couple now face harsh guidelines set by the British government, racism, prejudice and the struggle of assimilating without loosing their culture. Worse still, there is a malevolent entity in the house with them and Boi is determined to keep his new home at any cost.
Film is written and directed by Remi Weekes and while the tropes are familiar, the perspective is not. The supernatural elements are steeped in Sudanese culture and are quite effective. It can be spooky at times and it’s messages about racism and the plight of refugees is subtly woven into the story. We also get some surprising reveals as to what this African spirit, called an apeth, wants and why it is there, along with some solid drama with the conflict between the eager to assimilate Boi and the reluctant Rial. The cast, which also includes Matt Smith (Dr. Who) as their case worker, are all very good and the visuals and FX are effective, with Javier Botet performing one of the entities. Flick is currently streaming on Netflix.
MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU (2018)
Indonesian horror finds young Alfie (Chelsea Islan) traveling to her father’s old home, with her stepmother (Karina Suwandi) and step-siblings, after her dad, Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy) mysteriously takes ill. To her horror, she discovers that her dad made a deal with the Devil for his successes and now old scratch is coming to collect…and Alfie and the rest of her step-family are included in the price.
Film is written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto with a definite case of Sam Raimi envy at times. The film borrows elements not only from Raimi’s Evil Dead films, but also Drag Me to Hell. Sure, the story is different and Tjahjanto tries to do his own thing with them, but some of the set pieces, possessed family members and creepy cellar activity, echo Raimi’s works. Tjahjanto paid attention to his influences, though, as he uses what he borrows well and there are some very effective and impressive make-up and gore effects to portray his supernatural carnage. The film looks good with some effective cinematography by Batara Goempar and atmospheric art direction by Antonius Boedy. The location is quite spooky and actress Chelsea Islan makes a solid heroine as tough teen Alfie. On the downside, it is a bit too familiar, at times, to be consistently scary and at 111 minutes, it seems to drag on far too long with a climax that goes into extra innings before it ends. There is also some drama between Alfie and her step-family members that does slow the momentum down at points. It makes the pacing somewhat uneven. Overall, this Netflix streaming horror is still worth a look and is entertaining, but not quite the scare-fest we were hoping for. Timo Tjahjanto still shows strong potential with the mix of his own ideas and the well used elements he borrowed. Inspired a 2020 sequel, May The Devil Take You Too, that is oddly streaming over at Shudder.