Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vamp or Not? Kuntilanak Kamar Mayat

coverA little while ago I investigated the vampiric aspects of the Indonesian movie Pocong Vs Kuntilanak. To explain why I quoted the Wikipedia entry for Pontianak, which I do again “The Pontianak, Kuntilanak, Matianak or "Boentianak" (as known in Indonesia, sometimes shortened to just kunti) is a type of vampire in Malay folklore, similar to the Langsuir. Pontianak are women who died during childbirth and became undead, seeking revenge and terrorizing villages.”

This is relevant here as the 2009 Nayato Fio Nuala directed Kuntilanak Kamar Mayat actually has a little more in common with the wiki entry and yet, perhaps, strays more from Western recognisable vampire.

ghostly nurseThe film begins with afro-haired Cil waking at a desk in a hospital. A radio isn’t working properly and we see a long haired ghost jerking in the distance. Cil ends up getting to the morgue and there is a body in the morgue that occasionally seems to move and to which Cil speaks nervously as things seem to occur. Suddenly an ashen faced nurse is before him, and he thinks her asleep. She opens her eyes and they are totally black. Cil awakens screaming in the middle of class – to the amusement of his fellow students.

Din and RobCil is very much the comedy character, fart gags, horn-rimmed glasses, huge afro that gets caught in doors. He even gets cartoon-like comedy sound effects. His presence in the film was somewhat confusing but bridges, at this point, to Rob and Din (short for Andini). Din’s sister Miranda hasn’t contacted her for four months and Din is worried about her.

Indra and SarahIn the hospital we see a fairly heavily pregnant woman. She turns out to be Miranda and she is trying to speak to a young doctor called Indra – the father of the baby. They had an affair whilst she was a nurse at the hospital but he is engaged to another nurse named Sarah. He fobs Miranda off and then tells Sarah that nothing has ever happened between him and Miranda and anything Miranda says is a lie.

Indra has been a naughty boyHe receives a call from the girl and she says that she just wants to see him once and then she’ll never bother him again. He agrees to go to her house and, despite the fact that he is negative towards her, we see him lay down on the bed with her. We cut to a soaked Miranda walking on a bridge in the rain. She looks over the edge and then she is gone. The implication being that she killed herself and, certainly, Indra wakes in her house alone.

ghostly hand passes the shampooAfter this he, Sarah and Din are all haunted and here the film falls down both on a vampiric level and as a film. This is clearly a pregnant woman who died, as the film progresses we discover that there was no suicide she (and her unborn baby) were murdered and this is a cry for revenge. Indeed she was already dead before Indra met her at her home. The quote from wiki is partly fulfilled, therefore, in that it is a pregnant woman who dies (though not in childbirth) and seeks revenge.

birthing herselfHowever her antics, haunting various persons, being rotten, having long hair lank over her face, causing hallucinations (including hallucinations of worms – although some of those might be real) and generally putting the scare on people is pure ghost story – taken in this case heavily from J-horror in look. There is nothing particularly vampire like about it. Even at the culmination, with an impressive fast cut scene of her rotten self birthing a vengeful self and cutting the murderers head off, we are not in the realm of vampires in a Western sense.

the kuntilanakFilm wise this is problematic because there is just so much thrown in that atmosphere becomes muddied. She is haunting people consistently and everyone is being freaked out by the appearance of ghosts at every turn. There is too much to maintain a sense of horror – familiarity breeding contempt I’m afraid. Certain horror films might crave constant appearances of the supernatural but generally less is more and allows a sense of tension to build.

ghosts on cameraCil is an odd character. A wannabe horror director he attends the hospital with Din where he sneaks off to film the morgue – the same morgue he had his nightmare about. In the morgue he encounters ghosts – lots of them. The lights go out and they are all over the place in the camera’s night vision mode. He even sees Miranda, in nurses uniform with black eyes and it is clear it was she in his nightmare. Yet what is he to her? As a casual friend of her sister, why would he be haunted?

random pocongStranger still, having left the hospital he finds a soup seller and tries to buy meatball soup. He eventually gets it, though the vender states that he normally sells in the cemetery district to kuntilanaks. The seller then transforms into a pocong and terrorises him for awhile. Pocongs appear occasionally later also, but seem to have no relevance to the main story (even though one of the directly involved characters sees one). The coda involving Cil is just bizarre.

nurse uniform and cleavage - no translation necessaryUnfortunately, as a horror film, this throws in too much to be truly effective – which is a shame as it carried a nice atmosphere at times and had some interesting cinematography in parts. The acting seemed good for the type of film (bar Cil, who just didn’t work for me – the comedy being too overt) but the film did stray a little too much into melodrama occasionally (with romantic piano pieces stretching out over areas of the soundtrack).

As for the vampiric nature… The deceased pregnant woman looking for revenge works but there is no real vampiric action – it is much more ghost standard. We don’t even get some sharp teeth as we did in Pocong vs. Kuntilanak. Of interest but ultimately not vamp.

The imdb page is here.

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