Released Oct. 12, 2018
Unrated (equal to PG-13 for violence, imagery, and mild language) – 1hr 45min
Directed by Rizal Mantovani
Starring Sandrinna Michelle, Aurélie Moeremans, Fero Walandouw
Five adopted children are left in the care of their foster mother’s niece for three weeks. In the meanwhile, the niece’s boyfriend has procured a nice gift for the aunt – an ornate antique mirror. Unfortunately, the mirror is cursed with a ‘kuntilanak’, an evil spirit that feeds on the souls of children, preying especially on those without mothers.
The Ring meets Oculus by way of E.T., all rooted in Indonesian culture and folklore. It’s mostly jump scares, a twitchy demon with crunchy bones that flops around the floor a lot, and some tonally inconsistent kiddie hijinks.
Kuntilanak started well enough. The intro focuses on a young boy, Anjas, mourning the recent loss of his mother and dealing with the erratic behavior of his father, who is drowning his sorrows in booze. He’s a perfect mark for the mirror-bound ghost, and she makes quick work of him. This sequence is actually quite effective – it’s properly creepy and suspenseful while also managing to be surprisingly sad. The actor who plays Anjas, Naufal Ho, does a good job at selling his character’s grief and survivor guilt. However, the movie’s primary problem starts to grow apparent even in this early scene.
The film throws every single thing it can think of at the wall and doesn’t wait to see what sticks before it begins throwing more. It doesn’t take long for the haunted mirror to find its way into the home of the main protagonists, and once it does, the set pieces are a relentless bombardment of creepy sounds, supernatural tropes, jump scares, and shrieking violins. Kuntilanak wants to beat you over the head with a shoe while screaming, “ARE YOU SCARED YET?!?! HOW ABOUT NOW?!?!” So much is employed so quickly, it doesn’t take long before scares are being recycled. By the midway point, I was just exhausted with the whole endeavor and was dragged along apathetically through the remainder of the runtime.
The film must have been exhausted too, because it is at that halfway mark when a new plot device is introduced and our plucky child heroes are literally packing their bags and going elsewhere for about a half hour. I’m not sure I could adequately explain why they do this, other than to conveniently tie their story in with the opening sequence. The brief respite as they travel from one location to the other is welcome, because once they arrive to the other house, Kuntilanak goes right back to pummeling us with the spooky shoe again. “THOSE CANDLES LIT THEMSELVES!!! YOU SCARED NOW?!?!”
There’s some odd stylistic choices and tonal inconsistencies throughout as well, but I attribute a lot of that to my own lack of familiarity with Indonesian culture, so those elements probably held my interest better than most everything else in the film. Indonesia is a rapidly developing economy with quite the burgeoning horror scene, so there’s plenty more offerings on the way – Kuntilanak was probably not the ideal introduction though. It would’ve been impressive if it had pulled off the whole ‘The Grudge with an 80’s Speilberg vibe’ motif it had going on, but it showed so little restraint that it worked better as a parody than a horror movie.