Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Macabre (2009)

The new French renaissance of horror films is nothing if not influential. Movies like À l'intérieur (Inside) worked to kind of jostle new life into the home invasion genre while tossing the viewers characters we can invest in rather than caricatures of preposterous people. Martyrs grabbed torture porn by the throat and ripped it apart, forcibly inserting metaphysical meaning and contemplation into it's run time. And then there was Calvaire, Shietan, and especially Frontier(s) which saw the depravity of Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and flipped it, making both cultural and political statements whilst assaulting onlookers with insane violence and grue. It's the latter film, Frontier(s), that the Mo Brothers 2009 Indonesian film Macabre most resembles, an observation meant as a compliment to both crew and cast.

Macabre follows six friends traveling to Jakarta after reconciling estranged siblings. Little exposition is done during this time, aside from a quick display of bar room machismo cut short by a lager bottle over the head. During this time, names and personalities are exposed, opening the way for the film to plow ahead. The travelers end up encountering a girl stranded in the rain, dazed and purportedly robbed. Once she learns the group is traveling in the direction of her home, she asks if they would be gracious enough to take her there. Not wanting to leave her stranded they oblige her, making room in the van and getting on their way.

Once home, they meet the family. Dara is the mother, polite and proper, who insists they stay and allow her to prepare a meal as thanks for seeing her daughter safely home. We also meet her brothers, who are both polite and cordial, if not a bit abrasive, as well as quiet and reserved. They say very little except where Ladya, the estranged sister whom we met previously, is concerned. She is characterized as fiercely defiant and proudly independent, only caving into the trip after realizing she would not likely see her brother or very pregnant sister-in-law again after that night. With the exception of Adjie and Astrid, Ladya's brother and his wife, they all sit down for the feast prepared by Dara.

And right about here is where all hell breaks lose. In a way similar to Ben Wheatley's excellent Kill List, Macabre shifts from a polite if little unusual drama into a 60 minute geyser of blood and insanity. While the initial 30 minutes give us slow and deliberate exposition, the 45-60 minute payoff is often overwhelming, grim, and completely nuts. The Mo Brothers weave in everything but the kitchen sink here: cannibalism, incest, satanic panic-esque imagery, some Indonesian spirituality, and a huge does of misanthropy and nihilism.

The film actualizes a dementedness rarely seen on screen, helped immensely by the brothers' handle on the proceedings. This movie is their baby, and everything in it is done with a finesse you don't often see in debuts. Their love for practical effects is especially heartening as they hack, slash, saw, and stab with reckless abandon, spurting and spewing more blood in the film's second half then the entire duration of the Evil Dead remake. By the time the dust settles, there is blood everywhere. To their credit, not only are the effects crafted with aplomb, they are also exceptionally realistic. Rare are there moments anymore that overwhelm me in regard to gore or brutality but Macabre has many, not to mention many scenes worth doubling back just to rewatch in shocked awe.

It helps that the cast are all game for the craziness. Shareefa Daanish especially as Dara (which was the title to the Mo Brothers short film that inspired this bit of nastiness), who comes across as genial and sweet one moment, manic and brutally cold the next. The way she constantly flips her personality in the film is always impressive and great fun to see, especially once she goes berserk. As well, Julie Estelle is quite good as Ladya, who is tasked with keeping it together in the midst of all the carnage exploding upon the sets, as well as carrying the brunt of the film. Ario Bayu is also great as Adjie and Sigi Wimala as Astrid.

There is a definite intended audience for this film, and it does not include the casual horror fan. There are so many disparate elements coming together here that it could make your head swim if you're not in on any of the observations already. The film is gory and mean, quick and deliberate, harsh, unforgiving, and literally dripping with practical effects. It's also not afraid to wink at the audience with its sly wit and occasional black humor. As a debut feature, it shines. Especially fun is comparing the work in this to the work seen in the Safe Haven segment of V/H/S/2. Working with Gareth Evans and the festival reception of Macabre circa 2009 paving the way for the upcoming Mo Brothers craziness in Killers, which to my understanding is already banned in its native Indonesia. So yeah, if any of that sounds particularly awesome, this is one I can't hesitate to recommend.

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