It's a slasher horror movie, all right ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's a slasher horror movie, all right

My rating:

Everyone has their own particular tastes in movies, and film critics are no exception. However, a film critic is obligated to at least try to broaden his cinematic dimensions, understand the appeal of genres he doesn't normally watch, and judge them fairly by the standards of their fans. (And yet, there always those who don't.) But critics are human too, and we have our prejudices over certain types of movies we'd have no interest in watching if it weren't our job hobby to review them. I've been pretty choosy about the foreign (i.e. Hollywood) movies I watch, and if there's a major release that I conspicuously did not review, you can bet it's because I chose not to. I make that up by watching (almost) every local film, for which I have deliberately chosen to not be choosy about.

Seru is a slasher horror movie. And, um, that's one genre I have no interest in. Which makes this a hard review to write.

The shooting of a horror film in the middle of a dark and foreboding jungle in the dead of night is interrupted when two crew members, Sari (Nisha Dirr) and Julie (Cut Mutia), suffer hysterical fits. Amidst fears that the two have been possessed by ghosts, most of the crew stay with Sari at base camp while two others, Sham (Sufian Mohamed) and Tony (Qhaud AF), go looking for Julie who has wandered off into the forest. The cameras continue to roll at the behest of producer Lina (Khatijah Abdul Ghani), who wants to capture "making of" footage, recording the rest of the night's events: the crew encounter evidence of sabotage to their power generators. Ungkai (Dewa Sapri) and his wife (Aida Yuamanja), two Orang Asli who live nearby, lend their aid in treating the deliriously ill Sari. And then... the killings start.

Has there ever been a first-person "found footage"-type slasher movie? I don't think there has. Co-directors Pierre Andre and Woo Ming Jin have cited the Spanish film REC (and its Hollywood remake Quarantine) as an inspiration, but that was about zombies. In any case, I'm willing to hail Seru as a true original, a film that has something fresh and new to offer to the world and not just Malaysia, and that it's about frickin' time for Malaysian film. But I'm going to state upfront that I don't like slasher horror. Gruesome death scenes, bodily dismemberment and evisceration scenes, squick me, and I cannot understand the appeal of a genre in which "inventively gory" is a standard of quality. (Not to pass judgment though. I'm sure there are folks who don't like action movies and don't get what makes an inventive action scene.)

So no, I didn't enjoy this movie, although I daresay slasher fans might. There's certainly a constant sense of dread throughout, especially in how these characters' attempts to get the hell out of there are thwarted again and again. I found it a genuinely, effectively scary movie, probably more so than any other local horror film I've seen to date. But I also daresay it's hobbled by our Censorship Board in the goriness of its kills; there's a clear sense that Pierre and Woo want to show some hacked-off limbs, a beheading or two, maybe a good ol' fashioned disemboweling, but couldn't for a very FINAS reason. Full disclosure: I was quite relieved they didn't, but in the spirit of critical objectivity, I reckon it's really quite tame by the standards of international slasher films.

But what about the standards of just plain good films? Well, slasher movie n00b that I am, I will say this: these characters are dull. I didn't even list most of them in the synopsis above, since they're either interchangeable or end up dead before halfway through. The closest thing to a hero here is cameraman Jeff (Sharnaaz Ahmad), and only because the movie starts with a flashforward in which he says he's the sole survivor. Certainly not because he's the most well-developed, or that he does anything heroic, and this is another reason why I don't like slashers - because the genre just doesn't need character development. Everyone's just there to get gorily hacked up. Likable characters, or admirable characters, or three-dimensional characters, are about as relevant in a slasher as a song-and-dance sequence in an action movie.

Or maybe that's just my prejudices talking. Maybe a knowledgeable slasher fan can school me. Honestly, I'm really finding it hard to review this movie, and one major reason is that it made me nauseous. I've said before that I like "found footage" movies, but I have to add a caveat: only if the camera is largely static, as in Penunggu Istana and Paranormal Activity. I get dizzy watching long hand-held shots, and this plus the bloody goings-on (relatively tame as they are) made me worry I was going to throw up right there in the cinema. So consider this a warning if you're as prone to movie-induced motion sickness as I am - but how does one judge a film like this on its own terms, rather than those of us with faulty vestibular systems?

So three stars it is. And I have no real idea whether that's overly generous or unfairly mean, and for that I apologise. But hey, best of luck to it at the Udine Far East Film Festival! Seru is one of two Malaysian films featured there, and I think it has a fair chance at making an impression on the international stage. (The other is Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah, and although it's not a bad movie, I don't think mat sallehs are gonna "get" it.) It's not wildly innovative, but it does have a somewhat fresh approach to its genre; aside from having a first-person camera, it's also a supernatural-tinged slasher, involving black magic and ghostly possession ('cos this is Malaysia, where it ain't horror unless there's supernatural spookiness going on). Which I believe is pretty unusual for slashers. Nice going there, Woo and Pierre - it's ideas like this that'll bring filem Malaysia ke persada dunia.

NEXT REVIEW: Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist
Expectations: pretty high, believe it or not


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fadz said...

hey, i like what u write, and u got the point why this movie was made esp for its fans.. and u write good, and its not even bias!! def a good review.. and if i would give my stars (i even said, this is the best horror malaysian have produced), i would have given the same, a well deserved 3 star! kudos!!

The Great Swifty said...

This is somewhat delayed, but SERU is actually screening in competition at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Fest in Korea right now.

Here's a video of the Q and A session with one of the directors, Woo Ming Jin.