Malaysia, 2011, colour, 1.85:1, 83 mins.
Directors: Hu Mingjin 胡明进 [Woo Ming Jin], Pierre André.
A good-of-its-kind Malaysian excursion into docu-horror, combining shocks and humour.
Malaysia, the present day. While a crew led by producer Lina (Khatijah@Kat) and director Sam (Along Ezzendi) is shooting the horror movie Jangan bernafas (Don’t Breathe) in a forest one night, assistant director Sari (Nisha Dirr) collapses, apparently possessed by an evil spirit. When the electricity generator also fails, the crew is forced to halt shooting, though Lina tells the making-of team of Sham (Sufian Mohamed) and Tony (Qhaud Af) to keep rolling, as the footage could be useful for the film’s promotion. Make-up artist Julie (Cut Mutia) is next to be possessed and wanders off into the forest. Sham and Tony go to find her, while the others take Sari back to the nearby production office. One of the crew says she’s heard a rumour that a girl was murdered in the vicinity 10 years earlier, and that dispossesed spirits are running amok in the forest looking for homes. Then Ira (Nursharifatun Najwa) finds weird writing in blood on the walls of a room in the production office. Local shaman Ungkai (Dewa Sapri), an aboriginal, comes by and offers to help, exorcising the evil spirit from Sari. He says the story of a murdered girl is fiction. Meanwhile, d.p. Jeff (Shaarnaz Ahmad) claims he keeps seeing a female ghost, though no one else believes him. Suddenly, Sari bursts in, wielding a sickle.
Though it’s still hostage to all the endemic faults of the docu-horror (aka found-footage) genre – someone always has to carry the camera, or put it down in the right spot etc. – Resurrection Seru is one of the better of its type, thanks to a trim running time, scares that keep coming, a lively cast of characters and, most of all, a sense of humour. The surprise for some will be that it’s co-directed by Chinese Malaysian Hu Mingjin 胡明进 [Woo Ming Jin], better known internationally for navel-gazing festival fare like Woman on Fire Looking for Water (2009) and The Tiger Factory 虎厂 (2010); but like fellow Malaysian Chinese auteur Li Tianxing 李添兴 [James Lee], Hu has a Janus career, making genre material for local audiences and arty, minimalist stuff for international ones. The good news is that Resurrection is way better than Li’s latest genre excursion, the ploddingly arch and not at all scary Claypot Curry Killers 恨之入味 (2011), and has rethought some of the docu-horror cliches for its story of a film crew harrassed by evil spirits in a forest.
For a start, the film uses two cameras – one attached to the main crew and another (distinguished by frame-lines on the image) belonging to a making-of team – thereby allowing for some variety by cross-cutting between two locations. Hu and co-director/writer Pierre André (an actor-director in his own right, and with an early cameo in the film-within-the-film) have also consciously broken the mockumentary wall by including some sound effects and music – thereby acknowledging that docu-horror is pretty much a phoney genre anyway. Despite that, they’ve at least thought up some reasonable excuses to keep the cameras rolling: (a) because the producer wants to use the footage for publicity, and (b) because it will be the only proof of what’s happening to them. That still doesn’t explain why the cameramen still manage to keep shooting while fighting off a possessed killer but, given the movie’s not-so-serious tone, the excuses are okay in the circumstances.
From the opening joke to much of the dialogue (producer Lina: “People don’t like to watch pointless scary movies”) the humour is knowingly self-reflexive but not in a pretentious or annoying way, and the characters here are at least people with a job to do, not spoilt, joy-riding teenagers with whose distress it’s difficult to empathise. Khatijah@Kat is commanding as the bottom-line producer, Along Ezzendi entertaining as the grumpy director, and Azman Hassan believably practical as the production manager. (Despite being genre entertainment, the film does catch the special relationship between members of a film crew.) Some of the nervous chatter between the making-of team palls after a while, but the regular scythe-wielding appearances by Nisha Dirr, as a possessed killer, keep the film moving.
At the end of the day, there’s little real plot; but scares, not motivation or psychology, are the main name of the genre’s game. Production credits are good. The original Malay title means “The Calling”, as in spirits of the dead.
Presented by Tayangan Unggul (MY). Produced by Hanamiya Services (MY).
Script: Hu Mingjin [Woo Ming Jin], Pierre André. Photography: Wan Chun Hung. Editing: Akashdeep Singh. Music: Azman Abu Hassan. Art direction: Nazrul Asraff Mahzan. Sound: Azman Abu Hassan. Action: My Ace Stunts.
Cast: Shaarnaz Ahmad (Jeff, d.p.), Khatijah@Kat (Lina, producer), Nisha Dirr (Sari, assistant director), Cut Mutia (Julie, make-up artist), Azman Hassan (Azman, production manager), Along Ezzendi (Sam, director), Sufian Mohamed (Sham, making-of team), Qhaud Af (Tony, making-of team), Dazrin Kamaruddin (Budi, camera operator), Murshid Anak Wayang (Murshid), Nabila Dally (Ain), Nursharifatun Najwa (Ira), Dewa Sapri (Ungkai, local shaman), Aida Yusmanja (Ungkai’s wife), Nora Danish (Yana, actress in film), Pierre André (Bob, actor in film), Awal Ashaari (Zed, actor in film).
Release: Malaysia, 28 Apr 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 13 Aug 2011.)