Trinil Movie Review : A melodramatic, overacted horror flick that makes you laugh (unintentionally, that is)

Trinil Movie Review : A melodramatic, overacted horror flick that makes you laugh (unintentionally, that is)

What starts off with just enough promise ends up being an unintentionally funny film replete with caricatures of witch doctors and bad horror cliches
Trinil(2 / 5)

Set in the late 1970s and based on a famous radio play, Hanung Bramantyo’s Indonesian horror drama Trinil (originally titled Trinil: Kembalikan Tubuhku) starts off with a fair amount of promise. And therein lies the disappointment. A half-decent set-up involving tea plantation workers speculating about the mysterious disappearance of a certain Madam Ayu (Shalom Razade) is intriguing. After the demise of her husband, William (Willem Bevers), the Dutch owner of a vast tea estate, Ayu is nowhere to be seen. The most common rumour doing the rounds is that she has retreated to the Netherlands, her late partner’s home country. But that’s hardly interesting gossip, now, is it? Three workers debate as to whether or not she has been spotted skulking on the grounds and is, in fact, linked to the deaths of some of the factory workers. Up until this point, the film is not bad. But once the disembodied head, first as a shadow and then as a fully formed, otherworldly face, makes itself known, there are barely any redeeming qualities left. That it attempts to follow every cheap horror cliché known to man after that pushes it deeper into the grave from which Miss Ayu emerged. The reveal isn’t held back in any sort of manner, and that is what sinks the film. Trinil, in that regard, joins most mediocre, scary films of the day. Neither are they subtle nor are they powerful, and that boils down to poor writing and even poorer reliance on jump scares. The standard genre tropes are followed to the tee, and might I add, blindly too. Levitation, possession, witch doctors/demonologists, deep-seated childhood trauma, guilt, it’s all there - like one big, hastily-made, inedible porridge. And by the time the psychological damage is revealed (linking all the goings-on), it is too late to regain your respect or attention. While predictable, it does make sense in the larger scheme of the narrative.

Director - Hanung Bramantyo  

Cast - Carmela van der Kruk, Rangga Nattra, Fattah Amin, Goetheng Iku Ahkin, Wulan GuritnoWillem Bevers, Shalom Razade

Streaming On - Netflix

When William, the Dutch owner of a large tea plantation in Java, dies, Ayu, his Indonesian wife goes missing. That the circumstances are bizarre is beyond doubt. Speculation is rife among the workers as to her real whereabouts. The official line being pedalled by Joko (Goetheng Iku Ahkin), the loyal caretaker of the estate, is that she has moved to the Netherlands. But the employees aren’t satisfied, wishing to dig deeper into her alleged disappearance. What’s worse is that she has been spotted on the grounds from time to time. Some workers have ended up dying in strange circumstances, with the medical cause of death being heart attack. The connection between the two (Ayu’s disappearance and the deaths) cannot be mere coincidence, so wild stories are made up to piece the puzzle together. Meanwhile, Rara (Carmela van der Kruk), heiress to the plantation, is just returning from her honeymoon with husband, Sutan (Rangga Nattra). On the car ride home, Joko informs them of the erratic weather patterns being experienced, but fails to bring up the workers’ deaths. Rara is thrown into the thick of things. William left the entire business and fortune to her, not his wife. As soon as they settle in, Rara begins experiencing symptoms of sleep paralysis, with Sutan seeking Joko’s assistance.

In addition to the laughable horror elements meant to unsettle you, there’s the small issue of character. Overacting and unrealistic reactions apart, few beat the film’s resident witch doctor. That he claims to be a practicing psychiatrist deeply “interested” in cases of the paranormal and occult is laugh-worthy enough. Yusof (Fattah Amin), the “doctor” in question, is Trinil’s most accidentally comical caricature. With an ‘amateur actor in a school play’ sort of look, his clothes succeed in matching his overall craziness. Spouting some mumbo jumbo about disembodied ghouls in search of their original body, the man takes it one notch up with the colourful bandana, open shirt, and pendant with a massive gold ring hanging from it. Full marks for the 70s style, and no judgment whatsoever, but 0 for the acting chops. When Sutan realises Yusof is in town, he goes to meet his childhood friend for answers. An unintentionally hilarious scene takes place before the two say hello. A seemingly possessed young woman runs through the hallway followed by hospital staff, and all it takes is for our man Dr. Yusof to look at the contorting demon with rolled up eyes and say, “Be gone!” Mini exorcism complete, in full patient view, no less. Poor Father Karras had to give up his life to save the young Reagan in The Exorcist. Some amateur, that guy, it appears! If one were to switch off Trinil’s subtitles, and view the scenes on mute, it would be hard to distinguish it from a slapstick comedy, a poor one.

As cliché as Rara’s psychological trauma is as a young girl is (from the genre’s storytelling standpoint), it remains one of the better written / acted portions of the film. It comes too late, obviously, with the sad excuse for headless horror taking centre stage. Between the overdose of melodrama, questions can be asked. For instance, how could Rara be unaware of the deaths on her plantation? Where the hell is the police in all of this? Guess they were enjoying the comedic show of the talking, severed face saying “Trinil” in an eerie manner.

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