Monday, September 13, 2010

Paku Kuntilanak – review

Director: Findo Purwono

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

The kuntilanak has been one of the more frustrating vampire types I have looked at on Taliesin Meets the Vampires. Whilst commonly listed as a vampire variant the Indonesian film industry do all sorts of weird and wonderful things with the lore – to the point that many a Kuntilanak movie has received the patented T_ttlg “Vamp or Not?” treatment and many have failed the test.

Suffice it to say that, given this is a review, Paku (or nail) Kuntilanak is a vampire movie. Trouble is it isn’t a brilliant one but I get ahead of myself.

the car just crumpled
The film begins with a figure walking the streets. Flowing white shroud and long black hair it could be a scene from a million and one Far Eastern cinema horror films. Then the car strikes it… and crumples. It is a fantastic opening. The figure stands and turns her head to camera, revealing our first glimpse of the kuntilanak (Dewi Perssik); greyed skin and black eyes.

monstrous face
Cut to a couple, Sally (Heather Storm) and Oca (Keith Foo), after some censored (one guesses) rumpy they are led in bed. Sally sees the figure and screams that she saw her. Oca calms her and she goes to get some water. She pours a glass from a bottle and sees that it is filled with maggots. The Kuntilanak grabs Sally, the monster's face now decayed and nasty looking. She throws Sally over a banister and starts in on Oca. Clearly Oca was expecting an attack as a shaman, Cayaho, runs in and ropes her. Oca climbs over her, at the insistence of the shaman, with nail and mallet and…

…not what you might be expecting, he hammers the long, metal nail into her head. This is some new kuntilanak lore for us but in absolute keeping with tradition. The nail in the head robs the fiend of some of her power and, if it remains in, she will decompose like a normal corpse. They place her in a suitcase, tie it up with rope and throw it in the river.

peeking at a ghost
We see Mona (Chinthyara Alona) and the uniform she is almost wearing looked awfully like a nurse’s uniform until we learn later that she is the secretary to Mr Joko (Kiwil) who is the head of a company of corpse hunters – essentially the guys who go and retrieve corpses. One of them, Odjie (Rizky Mocil), is trying to sneak a peak of her washing and this is where the film falls down. It is essentially pitched at comedy level but it just wasn’t all that funny, to me at least. Anyway the telephone rings and Mona puts a towel on and goes to answer it. Odjie believes he is getting an eyeful until the woman he is watching reveals her ghostly nature and flies at him.

a suitable victim
Joko fancies Mona and is single but Mona seems to ignore his (ahem, rather physical) reactions to her. Odjie and his co-workers Sukun (Edi Brokoli) and Obeng (Rizky Mocil) are sent to retrieve the corpse of a suicide – the details of this from our point of view are not that important and it wasn’t that funny as a scene. Anyway long story short Joko invites Mona to his home, is rebuffed and goes to a bridge to kill himself. He falls (rather than jumps) and finds the suitcase, releasing the kuntilanak. She goes along the river searching out sustenance and finding a woman washing clothes.

The kuntilanak attacks her, biting her neck and drinking her blood. She then attacks a petting couple – flinging the man away and drinking from the girlfriend. Eventually she flags down a taxi and says she wants to find the man who helped her, Joko. She does eventually and asks him for a place to stay, telling his mother that they are to be married and telling him that she means it. Here is another place the film falls over for me. Not only does he not recognise her, indeed neither does he react to the fact she is called Kunti, he actually takes a woman he met literally five minutes ago into his home to be his wife. Suspension of disbelief has just plummeted like a stone.

Mona switches on the wiles
Never mind, in bed she wakes him and has him pull her “hair clip” out – actually the nail – and now she has her power back and she still wants revenge on Oca and Sally (he murdered her for Sally). Meanwhile Mona, hearing that Joko is getting married, becomes jealous and actually turns her wiles towards him. During one of these scenes she realises that Kunti is not human.

feeding him worms
So, what other lore do we have? Well as well as being incredibly strong, resilient and able to change shape; Kunti can change the form of things around her. She gives the taxi driver money that reverts to being a leaf when she has gone. She feeds Joko his favourite foods, but they are really worms and the drinks she gives him are really glasses of blood.

no reflection
Actually these can be seen for what they really are in a mirror. Likewise she has no reflection in a mirror. She is able to take her monstrous forms at night, apparently restricted to human form during the day. She is followed to the maternity hospital at one point where she steals placentas and chows down on them. Actually Dewi Perssik is the best thing about this film, cackling away and bestowing the kuntilanak with all sorts of weird.

Unfortunately the film is pitched wrong. The opening sequence is superb and they could have made a tight little horror film with a lot of atmosphere. Instead they went down a (bad) comedy route and we are left with something that is below average. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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