We love Halloween here at The DreamCage and we love the countdown to it even more as, every day in October, David Ames opens a window (well, writes an article) in his Hallow-vent Calendar of Asian horror films. His choice for Day 7 of Hallow-vent is Kuntilanak ...
Find the full calendar for Hallow-vent 2020 here.
It’s that time of year again: the birds are chirping, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s a pandemic raging. All of these elements come together to make a fantastic holiday season, full of candy, and popcorn, and gory, bloody, creepy films that cause existential crises and fits of catatonia.
This year I am looking at a subgenre of horror that, although it is centralized to a continent, is very diverse in subject matter and approach: Asian horror. I LOVE Asian horror. It may be that the original Ringu played an important part in my young life, causing me to be both fascinated and horrified by this type of horror.
While I was used to American horror movies, particularly slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, I was not prepared for the sheer amount of difference between American and Asian approaches to horror. While most of what I had seen of American horror dealt with blood, gore, murder, and a substantial amount of nudity and sexual content (my 12-14-year-old self was always appreciative), Asian horror was much more subtle and disturbing.
Maybe it was the newness and disconnection of the culture. Maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe it was the seeming focus on folklore that wasn’t present in the west’s presentation (at least from my limited experience), but from the moment I saw Ringu, I was hooked.
This year I wanted to approach Asian horror that was not as famous as those I had seen previously and so I chose movies that I had never seen, or even heard of for the most part. There is only one film on the list that I was familiar with beforehand, and I hadn’t watched that since high school.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange mix of subtlety, disturbing imagery, and slow-burn that is this year’s Hallow-vent calendar.
The film opens with a father and son grieving the loss of a wife/mother. While the father drinks away his pain, the son is left to draw and suffer alone. That is, until he is called to by a strange voice that seems to know his name, and looks strangely like his mother. As the child hugs this new creature, she asks if he would like to come with her, to which he happily agrees. When the father goes to search for his son, he finds a trail of blood leading to an antique mirror, and no other trace of his boy.
Cut to later, where we see an orphanage of sorts, run by a kind older woman named. She has basically adopted five young children to live in her large house, and become one family. While four of the children seem to latch onto this idea, welcoming her as a mother and each other as siblings, the oldest girl, Dinda, is still struggling with the connection. Still, they are close, and spend every waking moment together, playing and talking.
When Donna, the mother, decides to travel to San Francisco to visit her other children and grandchildren, her niece Lydia and boyfriend Glenn agree to watch over the children. Glenn, the host of a paranormal-based television show, has been exploring the home of the father and son from the beginning of the film, which is now abandoned. It is now the stuff of local legend, as everyone discusses the haunting that must be taking place there. When he spots an old antique mirror which has been discarded, Glenn decides it is the perfect piece to replace the broken mirror Donna owns, and so takes it to the house.
From here, each of the children begin to experience a strange voice calling them. Dinda, in particular, is targeted, as she feels the most isolated at the home, and so she begins to see strange things. A woman in the backyard, her voice being called from the storeroom, an Indonesian goddess with pupil-less eyes. The paranormal activity in the house increases, and as Miko, one of the young boys, reads more about the kuntilanak, a spirit who kidnaps children and takes them to her realm, the children decide that this ghost is what they are dealing with.
When Ambar, the youngest girl goes missing, Dinda, Miko, Panji, and Kresna decide they must call the spirit out from the mirror and kill her, to save their sister and keep their family together. To know more, you have to watch!
Initially I wasn’t so sure of the film. It has the same look as The 3rd Eye, and I was worried that it follow suit in terms of quality. Luckily, although not terrifying or extremely sinister, Kuntilanak is an enjoyable haunted house picture, with plenty of creepy visuals and a decent performance from the cast.
None of the performances are spectacular, but most of the cast is around the age of 10 or 12. Still, they carry the film’s story well, and we do fear for their safety. Especially since no adults are really present to help.
The music and lighting are good, but the real positive to take away are the visuals. The look of the spirit in all its forms is easily the most effective of all, and the times we see the children interact with her, it is genuinely unnerving.
This is one that may not be the best, but it was definitely enjoyable. It reminds me of Monster Squad spliced with Oculus. Give it a shot and enjoy the fun.