Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: Darah (2009)

A movie to feed to the evil side in me

"Sunday Movie Theater" returns after a near one-month absence, and this September instalment would be a great follow-up to the review series of Sci-fi Revoltech Jason Voorhees earlier this month I believe. ^^

Movie Poster from

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Darah", a 2009 Indonesian movie directed by Kimo Stamboel, and Timo Tjahjanto. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB. "Darah" is actually the Singaporean title for this movie - the title of the version I watched, while the English title for it is "Macabre". On the other hand, Indonesian audience will know it as "Rumah Dara". It's an interesting twist of words between the Indonesian and Singaporean titles that works very well I think. The Indonesian title of "Rumah Dara" means "the house of Dara", which is absolutely true, since that's the venue of almost the entire story. By adding an 'h' to the back of the character name, the Singaporean title "Darah", meaning "blood", is also very true in reflecting the gory nature of the movie. ^^ On a related note, for a Southeast Asian movie to have so many disturbing scenes depicting killings, gore, bloody, creepy environment, and even elements related to the supernatural, "Macabre" as the movie's international title is also very fitting to say the least.

I first watched this movie earlier last year I believe, despite its release for about four years ago now. I'm not too well informed when it comes to movies from neighboring countries because of my own ignorance. ^^; Then again, this movie is from a genre that is very restricted in promotion, and audience reach in the first place, so one has to be a big fan who is genuinely interested in this sort of movies to learn about its existence. ^^ With that said, the release of this movie is very restricted as well. Don't expect this title to be in the center spot on the shelves when you walk into a regular video store here in Malaysia. ^^; If not mistaken, this movie is actually banned in Malaysia. I was able to watch it through a different method (^^;), and because it's a different method, there's no censorship on any of the gory bits of the movie, much to my (twisted) delight. ^^ The movie would probably be chopped down to just about one-third of its intended run if the disturbing scenes were to be censored I think. ^^;

The story of "Darah" is not untypical of other slasher-type movies that preceded it I think. A couple expecting their first child, the husband's estranged younger sister, and two friends picks up a mysterious beautiful girl on their way to the airport, and was invited into her mother's house for dinner as a sign of gratitude for sending her home in that stormy night. Little did the five guest members know, they just walked into the den of a deranged, cannibalistic sociopaths who kills, and eats their victims. Quite typical to most other movies from the same genre, the discovery of the evil within the house, the near-hopeless struggle against the killers, plenty of gory scenes with closeups, plenty of blood, different types of weapons permeate the entire night at Dara's house.

Despite its Southeast Asian setting, "Darah" is very close in many aspects when compared to other movies of the same horror-slasher nature, which "traditionally" come from the West. If you're a fan of movies like the "Friday the 13th" and "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" franchises, "House of 1000 Corpses" (2003), "The Devil's Rejects" (2005), "The Collector" (2009), "Train" (2008), " The Hills Have Eyes" (2006), and many other gore titles, "Darah" is most probably a movie that you would like as well. ^^ As a matter of fact, given the many cliches of slasher movies found in "Darah", I would consider it as a rather typical entry in its genre. Then again, that's not a derogatory comment about the movie. There are genuine sense of horror displayed through the story, environment, and cast members' performance, and it does have many excellent features which are quite memorable to me.

One of the movie's most outstanding positive point in telling its horror story is the atmosphere. There's very little background music playing throughout the movie, creating a surreal but uncomfortable environment not just for the victims in the story, but for the audience members watching it as well. You know that something wrong is going to happen, but the quiet setting of most scenes seems to indicate otherwise, and that's creepy in my opinion. On top of the "unusual" serenity, the slow pace of certain scenes really helps to magnify the element of horror projected. The introduction of Dara (played by Shareefa Daanish), and the subsequent dinner scene are especially memorable to me. The slow pace of Dara's action, her super-creepy look and low-pitch voice, complimented by the total lack of background music is quite amazing, especially when the entire scene takes place in a large and well-lit (somewhat) normal looking dining room. Many movies of the same genre use dark lighting, narrow space, and horror music to create the same type of environment, so for "Darah" to achieve the same effect, to a greater level of success in my opinion, without resorting to the same setup is awesome to see.

The cast members' performance in this movie is pretty convincing, even though their design seems to fit a certain mold for horror movies to me. ^^; This is true for the victims, and the deranged killers as well. For the former, character types like the "leader", a damsel in distress, the heroine, the fret guy, the muscle guy, and the fool can be identified easily. For the Dara family, her three children seem like Otis, Baby from "House of 1000 Corpses" (2003), plus Leatherface from "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" franchises I think, albeit less insane as compared to their Hollywood "counterpart". ^^ Maya (played by Imelda Therinne), the innocent-looking girl picked up by the unlucky friends certainly has the deadly charm of Baby, deadly in a more literal fashion. The ruthless Adam (played by Arifin Putra) plays a part in some of goriest moments in the entire movie. His stalking of Astrid (played by Sigi Wimala), Adjie's pregnant wife is one of the most terrifying scenes in the entire movie. Despite his inhumanly calmness, I would equate his character to Otis from "House of 1000 Corpses" (2003), who was shown to display the same level of sadistic behavior towards his victim, especially women. The connection between Arman (played by Ruly Lubis) and Leatherface is almost like a no-brainer to me due to their body size, anti-social behavior, and total silence. The chainsaw he uses in what's perhaps the defining moment of gore in the movie is but an icing on the cake for that character connection. ^^

Speaking about the characters, the best performance of them all is without a doubt Shareefa Daanish's portrayal of Dara. She's one of creepiest movie character I've ever seen. Period. Her evil stare depicted in the movie poster at the beginning of this posting is accurate in establishing her character, but quite frankly, every moment featuring her in the movie is creepy. Right from the first minute she appears in the movie, you can sense that there's something terribly wrong about this lady. Despite her slow movement mentioned earlier on, she had her hands on more killings than any of her three children, with even unfortunate policemen among her victims. As the center figure shown in almost all movie posters for the movie, her character certainly defines the presence of horror, supernaturally so of the story.

While Dara is such a memorable character for her unnatural look, the same look on her three children seems a bit contrived to me. ^^; I can understand that some of their strange behaviors may be the result of long period of zero interaction with the outer world, but the constant cold stare from Adam, the unnatural affection shown by Maya to Eko (played by Dendy Subangil), the fret guy from the unlucky gang, in front of her mother at the dining table, and of course Arman and his total silence is very odd. Their performance seems to depict a huge invisible sign over their head that says, "there's something wrong with us, get out of this house while you still can, and if you're not dumb enough to not discover that already." XD In saying so, the inability of the whole gang to realize the weirdness displayed by the cannibalistic family is also kind-of contrived. They are perhaps a bit anti-social themselves, for not being able to see through the unnatural behavior of Dara. She doesn't look overly eager in holding the guests that a line of "No thank you, we have a plane to catch now" can't get them out of the house. ^^; Still, these are horror movie cliches that I don't mind at all really. ^^ I didn't sign up for an awesome story (although that would be a nice bonus ^^), I watch this movie for the blood and gore. ^^

Now, onto the blood and gore, which is my favorite part of the movie, and obviously this review as well. ^^ It's very well done in my opinion, making the movie a rarity among the movies produced in this geographical region. Weapons like a sickle and a scimitar add some elements of originality to the movie, as they are rarely shown in Hollywood productions. Many killing scenes are shown in close shots, which portray their brutality in an uncomfortably fashion. The knife through the door, chainsaw decapitation, and sickle decapitation are very crazy. ^^; Combined with the serenity of the environment, little to no background music, and slow pacing of the scenes, those moments of absolute horror for the victims look very genuine. When music is used, it's been cleverly integrated into the scene to heighten the sense of madness, rather than to just compliment the mood of the scene. The song from the record machine, which can be heard during the chainsaw decapitation scene blends almost seamlessly with the engine noise from the weapon, and the cries from those waiting in the next room for the slaughter as well. The setup of that particular scene is extremely clever in my opinion. The more human side of me was taken back a bit when I watch the movie the first time, but at the same time, the other part in me that love gore movies couldn't stop praising the scenes' execution. ^^;

Much like the acting, some of the gory scenes feel a bit contrived in my opinion. Because it's a deranged family, Dara and her children must use different weapons to finish off their victims, despite having the ability to drug them; Because the family is crazy, they place a film projector in the most obvious of places for the policemen to find out, so that we the audience can get a glimpse into the family's weird history; Because it's a merciless family, they have a whole shelves made of glass jar filled with dead fetuses ready to be shattered should a fight occur in the house. It's also odd that Dara doesn't seem to mind the cleanup chore inside the house that awaits her and her children from her victims' blood trail. Furthermore, if six people as a gang, drugged, is enough to wrack so much havoc in Dara's house, the killers need to level up their skills, seriously. XD Then again, these plot points play right into some of the most "celebrated" cliches of the genre, so they don't bother me too much to ruin my enjoyment of the movie, but they are there, just so you know. ^^

The supernatural aspect of Dara's family, particular her background is a feature of the story that isn't developed well in the movie I think. The implication that the family enjoys longevity due to their practice of cannibalism is not an original idea per se. The penultimate episode of the second season of "The X Files" entitled "Our Town", which aired almost two decades ago featured the same concept. Since the main focus of the movie is about the Dara family and their captives, I'm not sure if the mentioning of her mysterious background, in a rather contrived way as mentioned earlier on, is necessary. The entire family is set up to be creepy enough. With or without mentioning that they are monsters with human appearances, they look undoubtedly unnatural already. ^^ Compound on the supernatural element of the story, the mysterious cult symbol which was also shown as part of Dara's background is another plot point that could be left out in my opinion. It has no effect on the main story, and seems almost like a trivial information to the audience members. Did the story intend to create a continuity to explore the same cult organization in another movie, perhaps with another similar story? I'm not sure.

All in all, "Darah" is a very good gore movie. Despite the cliches it uses to tell its story, it manages to create many memorable gory scenes, which are genuinely scary. ^^ It also features whom I would say another great addition to the hall of scary slashers and sadists, Dara. ^^ Since she is hinted to still draw breath at the end of the movie, I definitely welcome another movie featuring this dark character. Then again, even if that's not happening, the high re-watch value of this movie is good enough for fans of the genre to experience the horror at Dara's house, again and again. ^^

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