A Fantastic Fest ’09 review


Ario Bayu as Adjie

Shareefa Daanish as Dara

Julie Estelle as Ladya

Ruly Lubis as Armand

Afrin Putra as Adam

Imelda Therinne as Maya

Sigi Wimala as Astrid

Directed by The Mo Brothers


Never pick up a hitchhiker. Don’t walk into a secluded compound – especially if you’re days away from giving birth. Always refuses a dinner invitation from a MILF who really looks young enough to be her seductive young daughter’s sister.

Fail to observe any of the above in a horror film and the slightly insane head of a clan of cannibals is bound to dismember you with a chainsaw. Hardly a tasty proposition – unless you’re the one with a hunger for human flesh.

Then again, if the newlyweds en route to a Jakarta airport with their close friends didn’t stop to give Maya (Imelda Therinne) a ride home, The Mo Brothers would have sent some other poor saps to their deaths.

The Mo Brothers – Indonesian directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto – clearly have devoured every U.S. and European splatter fests made in the past decade. They have stripped to the bone all the best parts of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Hostel, Them, Frontier(s), and Inside, dumped everything at once into a meat grinder, and baked a familiar but deliciously raw and bloody dish that demands to be consumed.

This Fantastic Fest entry, which expands upon the duo’s short Dara, opens with expectant parents Adjie (Ario Bayu) and Astrid (Sigi Wimala) preparing for a new life in Australia. Adjie’s estranged sister Ladya (Julie Estelle) and three buddies are driving the happy couple to the airport when they spot the drenched Maya in the middle of the road. They stop and take Maya home, and as one good deed deserves another, Maya’s mother Dara (Shareefa Daanish) offers them dinner. Everyone’s reluctant to stay: they’re creeped out by the ageless wonder that is Dara and her sons, the handsome but disconcerting Adam (Afrin Putra) and the taciturn hulk Armand (Ruly Lubis). It takes a little flirting on Maya’s part to gets them to accept Dara’s hospitality.

Like those Hostel hotties, Maya is setting a honey trap. And it works. One glass of the spiked vintage wine and Dara’s dinner guests are out cold. Then Armand retrieves his butcher’s tools. Why? Let’s just say Dara’s secret to eternal youth lies in her diet.

Dara has other plans for Astrid. Well, not her, but the baby in her belly that’s this close to popping out.

The Mo Brothers don’t pretend that they’re offering something we have not seen before. They know that we know what is going to happen and when. We can set our watch to when the first victims is carved up into steak-sized pieces. Then we sit back and wait for the survivors to make their escape, realize they’ve left two of their own behind, and run into the unstoppable killing machine that is Adam as they’re mounting their rescue. Oh, and you know exactly who will be the last standing.

So what if Macabre is murder by numbers? The Mo Brothers are having too much fun paying homage to their apparent influences to worry about whether they’re reinvigorating a subgenre that’s hit a creative wall. That’s never more evident than when a bunch of clueless cops show up and the parlor is soon repainted blood red, Tarantino style.

The kills aren’t particularly ingenious – if you have seen one dude get sliced and diced by a chainsaw, you have seen them all. But Macabre does crackle with tension from the moment Dara decides to have her guests for dinner. And it’s all the more of nerve-racking because The Mo Brothers offer for sacrifice a group of friends we want to see make it out of the house alive. There’s not an a-hole among them who deserves what he gets. Sure, a few exist solely to be gutted like a pig, but otherwise how could you not empathize with a pregnant woman caught in such a horrific predicament? As with Alysson Paradis in Inside, Wimala’s Astrid helps to redefine the meaning of protecting the unborn.

As Ladya, the slight Estelle embodies everything we have come to expect from our reluctant horror heroines. When called into action, she’s smart, tough, and resourceful. Put her in a catsuit and she would do just fine in an Underworld sequel. It’s also gratifying to watch Estelle gradually shed Ladya’s cold exterior to reveal a woman willing to fight tooth and nail to save her loved ones.

You know from the instance you set eyes on Dara that she’s one mother not to be messed with. Pale with a doll-like beauty, pleasant but robotic in her demeanor, Daanish possesses such unsettling qualities that she gives off the vibe she would literally kill you with kindness.

So the next time you walk into a house that “feels weird,” as Layda whispers upon entering Dara’s compound, don’t worry about insulting your gracious host. Get out. Quickly. Macabre offers the kind of horrifying experience that will make you think twice about sticking around to accept a reward the next time you behave like a good Samaritan.