Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sembunyi: Amukan Azazil [2013]

Director: Kabir Bhatia
Writer: Alfie Palermo
Starring: Diana Danielle, Remy Ishak, Umie Aida, Sharnaaz Ahmad, Fizo Omar
Genre: Horror
Rating: Teen (horrific images)
Verdict: "Like watching a flower that takes a little too long to blossom, but once the petals start to unfurl, whoa..."

1941. The Japanese invasion of Malaya. Aishah (Diana Danielle) tries to flee from the invading forces while her village burns behind her. Caught between the Japanese and the Royal Australian Air Force (if I'm not mistaken), it sends her further into the state of panic and disarray, and she's nearly killed when an explosion erupts not too far away from her. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself in the loving care of Ibu Zain (Umie Aida) and the protection of her son, Kamal (Remy Ishak). When she sees with her own eyes that her village is no more, she warms up to the idea of making this other village her home. But behind the peaceful facade lies a terror so great, it can only be matched by the atrocities of the war.

What to Expect
1. A multi-layered story
2. A sense of mythology to the story
3. A genre movie that evolves into something bigger and better
4. To care about the characters
5. An absorbing experience

What NOT to Expect
1. Lazy screenwriting
2. For it all to be a dream
Started out as a paint-by-numbers horror flick, but ended up rising above the genre
If you don't mind, I think I'll refer to Sembunyi by its original title, Azazil, because I'm not a big fan of this other form of iblis we have over here; the Lembaga Penapis Filem (LPF). Also, I am not a big fan of momok movies either (I'll explain in a bit), so you might wonder what possessed me to go for it. Truth be told, it was pure curiosity. Kabir Bhatia is one of those film-makers whose movies I wouldn't hesitate to spend time and money on. So the fact that he's doing a horror flick this time, well, I just couldn't resist.

Alrighty, so why am I not a fan of horror movies? Well, they're usually pretty dumb. Here's how they usually roll; Sergah sana. Sergah sini. Panggil bomoh, halau hantu. Roll credits. Hantu rasuk orang lain. The end.

Why did it all happen?


Aku pegi skodeng Nora Danish mandi je. Sekali pawang tu ingat aku dah hilang terus! HAHA!
Indeed, God knows best. But when you pull off something like that in a movie, it just comes off as sloppy and lazy screenwriting. I mean, what is there to be gained from that formula? If it's meant for "memuji kebesaran Tuhan", how is that so? "Oh, scary giler hantu tadi. Allahuakbar!" If it's meant for "memupuk keinsafan", I still don't get it either. "Oh, scary giler hantu tadi. Baik aku pegi semayang." If that's the case, then your priorities' all messed up, bro!

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is, the dignity of the horror genre has taken one hell of a beating for an extended period of time (kind of like Maya Karin in Ombak Rindu), thanks to the diarrhea of "scary" movies I'd normally associate with Ahmad Idham. So not only I didn't have a high opinion of the genre, I didn't think Azazil's going to be anything out of the ordinary. Therefore, I went into it hoping for two things and two things only; beautiful visuals and a good scare.

I got more than what I bargained for.

Granted, Azazil started out feeling like a genre movie (i.e. the kind of a movie that adheres to the unwritten rules of the genre). Correct me if I'm wrong, but in horror flicks we always have the clueless protagonist whose strong sense of curiosity always leads to baffling decisions being made, and the stories tend to be driven by events as opposed to characters. If we're on the same page about this, then you'd notice that Azazil has all of the above.

For example;

Don't go, Aishah!
No! There's this ugly lady lurking in the shadows, and she led me this cave full of human skeletons. I must go inside!
A couple of scenes later...

Aishah! It's dangerous outside. Stay indoors!
Ah, but here's where Azazil gets interesting. Like waiting for a beautiful flower to bloom, it may take a while. But when the petals start to unfurl, it will leave you intrigued by how wonderfully it evolves before your eyes. Not to mention that the transition is so smooth, it feels like a natural progression instead. It may take a while for Azazil to get to the point, but it will really reward you for your patience with hooks and other things I wouldn't mention lest I give away details to the plot.

What I can tell you is that nothing was left unresolved. Whatever things that they threw in there all came to a full circle by the time the credits started to roll.

I don't know about you, but I was duly impressed. It almost felt like a bait-and-switch, though you don't end up feeling shortchanged. Characters weren't as flat as one would expect from a Horror flick. If anything, it's quite the opposite. I loved the characters, and I cared about how they were going to fare, with their motivations and reactions all justified. This part too, was masterfully done. You see, too often I find characters in horror flicks so impossible to like, there's always that tendency I'd end up getting angry at the movie as a whole.

Mistik [2003] being the perfect example. Let them all die. I don't care. The slower, the better.
So much so, that I felt like it was a bit of a letdown whenever they got to the fight scenes. Don't get me wrong, they weren't bad at all. It's just that, I was so absorbed in the story, the action parts felt like they were in the way of it. But this is a minor point, and I'm sure it's just me.

However, that reminds of the only other thing I wish was different. In my opinion, they should have kept the appearances of the creature Azazil to the absolute bare minimum. Just glimpses, if possible. I wasn't there at the press screening, so I don't know what was the reason behind this creative decision. I'm sure there was one. But then again, this is also something I consider a minor point, and in no way disrupted the experience.

I don't have the credibility to say that Azazil is the best local horror movie since... Since whatever horror flick that was famous back in the day. Like I said, I don't know much about them. However, it certainly felt that way for me because it did more than just sergah you here and there. I'd recommend Azazil because it transcended the genre and became more than just a horror movie.

How? Well, why don't you head over to the cinema near you this Thursday, and find out?


Unknown said...

Tq for a well articulated review of the film. Why didn't I keep less of the creature is perhaps a learning lesson for me. But like u I tht well tats not what the story is really abt.so I let it slide...thinking there mite be some tat mite enjoy those elements. Well any way you have been supporting the film and I am greatful..it means a lot. Kabir

Anonymous said...

Wow,THE Kabir Bathia himself comment.Will there be a sequel?

Mamü Vies said...

Kabir Bhatia: Why, thank you sir for taking the time to read the review! :D Wish I could have been there at the press screening because there are a couple of things I wish I could asked you about. But hey, congratz for this excellent movie! Can't wait for Gila Baby!

The Malaysian Diarist said...

Got one question before I am sold. Was it scary at all? I have seen a good horror flick in a lonnnnnnnnnnng time.

Anonymous The Malaysian Diarist said...

er I meant haven't

Mamü Vies said...

The Malaysian Diarist:
Hey! Sorry for the late reply. But to answer your question... Scary, well, yeah. I'd say so. Haunting too. At least it was for me. Some images just stay with you.

The Malaysian Diarist said...

No worries about the late reply. I know my question sounds obvious but most local current horror films don't have that scare or haunting factor at all, or the scares are so predictable hence missing the whole point of BEING a horror movie. will check it out, thanks!

aqeyLs said...

Yes. I totally agree with u. I think the strength of ths movie is its storyline. Well, i could sy it's diff from other malay movie i watched..

Btw what a great review u hv here.. :-)

Jenn said...

I just watched this movie (I caught it online as it was gone from the cinemas before I got a chance to see it there). I had been intrigued by the title and the concept. And I like your review. I agree...it transcended the genre. I liked the twist at the end. I just wish Diana Danielle had done something other than cry and shiver the whole movie long...I think the wedding scene with Melur...that was excellent.

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