Belum cukup mantap lagi, En. Azhari ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Belum cukup mantap lagi, En. Azhari

My rating:

(Apologies for not reviewing Zoo. Work and personal obligations got in the way. Not because I'm deliberately avoiding anything that involves the Senario crew. Oh no.)

I may have been a little too harsh on Azhari Mohd. Zain. When I reviewed Jin Notti, I didn't know that that was his first film; and when I reviewed Santau, I didn't know that that was his first horror film. Now, none of this denies or mitigates the fact that both were terrible, terrible films - but inexperience is not the same as incompetence or apathy. And an inexperienced filmmaker certainly has room to improve.

Okay, the man has improved. But not enough to make Mantra a good movie.

When his wife Ani (Ana Dahlia) is afflicted with a supernatural curse, Muzir (Zul Suphian) resorts to black magic to save her - but this only earns him an arrest and incarceration. In his prison cell, he is visited by Mbah Suro (Ruzaidi Abdul Rahman), a practitioner of sorcery who imparts to Muzir his knowledge of the dark arts. Ten years later, Muzir is ready to take his revenge; with the unwilling aid of his Pak Long (Hamdan Ramli) who is also his prison guard, he makes good his escape. The target of his ire is Hasbi (Hasnul Rahmat), his former friend, who has since taken Ani as his wife and raised his son as his own - and who also has sorcerous powers of his own.

Now, when I say Azhari has improved, I meant as a writer. The bare bones of the plot is surprisingly solid, and I was even somewhat impressed by how economically it dealt with Muzir's backstory in the opening scenes. Nothing happened that didn't make sense, although the links between many plot points could've been made clearer. Soon after escaping, Muzir kills the first luckless dude he runs into, then transforms the guy's body into a decoy of his own so that he appears to have died in prison - only the film forgets to show how he got the body back into his cell. There's more than one instance where an attentive viewer can sort of figure out things that aren't shown or motivations that weren't spelled out, but come on En. Azhari, this isn't Inception.

But while the bare bones of the plot works, the meat is sadly malnourished. What era is this movie set in? Is this a period film? Why does no one think of calling a doctor when their wife or daughter is deliriously ill? All they do is call Hasbi, but does the guy have a job aside from local ghostbuster? Ani's mum goes missing, and Ani worries aloud about her (she's a mean old hag who made Ani divorce Muzir, so you can guess what he does to her), but nobody ever calls the police. And at one point, Hasbi asks Ani where their son Borhan is, and Ani says, "dia belum balik." And I'm thinking, he must be at school, so okay, there's some form of civil society in this movie. But no. Borhan is out cycling. Alone, through deserted forest paths. This after Hasbi is well aware that Muzir is out there with a grudge against him. All these plot holes could've been dealt with if the writing were a little more diligent.

And though I said Azhari's writing has improved, his direction sadly has not. All he does is rely on jump scares and goofy creature effects and what little gore is allowed by our cherished Lembaga Penapisan Filem. And there are a number of unforgivable continuity errors borne of sheer carelessness. At one point, Hasbi heals a cursed wound on Ani's arm, but in a subsequent long shot the wound is still there. Later Muzir does a similar thing to Borhan, but the makeup department must've been on their tea break or something, because we never even saw the wound. And there's a supposedly scary scene with Ani on the steps of her house that takes place at night, only it's sandwiched between two daytime scenes that ostensibly follow each other. It seems nothing more than an excuse to show Ana Dahlia in a kemban.

Then there's the way he directs his actors. This is only Zul Suphiaan's second film after Santau, so Azhari must've been responsible for his performance - which is to growl and scowl and loll his head about like he's been possessed by the demons he's summoning. And both he and Hasnul Rahmat are all constipated grimacing and shouty chanting during their many voodoo duels, which lends an overheated cheesiness to the whole proceedings. A little restraint, En. Azhari, would've worked better. Ana Dahlia was unremarkable, but she was playing a terribly-written character; Ani is this weak and simpering woman who does nothing to prevent two men from destroying themselves over her. If Hamdan Ramli's girly screaming was meant to be comic relief - it didn't work. It was just annoying. And Bob Lokman shows up towards the end as an imam that at first seems like a tacked-on "Islam pwns black magic, Allah FTW!" message, but actually turns out to be a half-decent plot twist. So there's that.

The thing about making a film is that it's easy to get so caught up in the minutiae that you lose sight of the big picture. I think that's what happened to Azhari here. I think when he sat down to write the screenplay, he did a solid piece of work - but when words turned to performances and shot compositions and art direction and shooting schedules, it all just got away from him. I don't know if he's actually getting better as a filmmaker, or if the few things good about it are flukes, so I guess we'll just have to see more from him to know for sure. In any case, Mantra still isn't a good film, but at least it's not as bad as his previous ones.

NEXT REVIEW: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Expectations: let's just get this over with


Aku Pembaca Filem said...

U rate mantra lebih better dari Santau? OMG...