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'Folklore': Finding the origins of fear

Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, September 21, 2018  /  08:56 am

HBO Asia’s new six-part horror anthology Folklore, helmed by Singaporean director Eric Khoo, brings to the screen different myths and beliefs once told to adults and children across six Asian countries.

Premiering on HBO on Oct. 7, the first episode begins with Folklore: A Mother’s Love, written and directed by renowned Indonesian director Joko Anwar.

Horror has always intrigued Joko, who released the hit Pengabdi Setan(Satan’s Slave) in 2017.

However, “horror can’t stand alone without drama”, he told members of the media during a screening of A Mother’s Love in Jakarta. “[A Mother’s Love] is not just horror, but also something a lot more emotional.”

Joko’s episode stars actress Marissa Anita and child actor Muzakki Ramdhan in a story involving a mother and her son living in extreme poverty, with a looming threat posed by the being Wewe Gombel, a ghost from Javanese mythology that has a penchant for kidnapping unloved children.

With elongated breasts and claws, Wewe silently terrorizes a maid, Murni (played by Marissa), and her son Jodi (Muzzaki).

In the first scenes of A Mother’s Love, we see Murni getting evicted from her house. Unpaid dues are to blame. After being hired as a maid at a mansion, she sees children who eat dirt and tap her in her sleep. Those are Wewe’s children and they are not to be messed around with.

Not relying on jump scares, A Mother’s Love draws its strengths from terrific acting from both Marissa and Muzakki.

When Murni excoriates Jodi for throwing dirt on sheets she just recently washed, the son implores the mother to talk to him, to no avail. It’s one of the most unsettling scenes in A Mother’s Love that exemplifies the small lights trained on these two actors.

Shot in eight days, A Mother’s Love is also a prime example of the filmmaker obsessing over his subject matter. “I did the research extensively [on Wewe Gombel],” said Joko, who also wrote and directed the first season of HBO Asia’s Halfworlds.

Wewe is said to have murdered her husband who had soured about their inability to have children. After committing suicide, she becomes a being who “only has love for children”, as someone says in the movie. Murni’s see-sawing confusion over her pure love for her son is a highlight of A Mother’s Love.

Joko said he had written the parts specifically for Marissa and Mazukki, but they still had to audition. Having met Joko at the Piala Maya film awards, Marissa was invited to audition — similar to Mazukki.

All six episodes from Folklore — including Folklore: Tatami by Japanese director Takumi Saitoh; Folklore: Nobody by Singaporean director Eric Khoo; Folklore: Pob by Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang; Folklore: Toyol by Malaysian director Ho Yuhang; and Folklore: Mongdal by South Korean Lee Sang-woo — will each debut globally at major international film festivals.

Joko and Ratanaruang’s episodes were chosen to premiere at primetime at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, making it the first time an Asian TV series has been officially selected since the inception of the primetime program at the festival in 2015.

Folklore: A Mother’s Love and Folklore: Nobody will also be shown at the Scream Asia Film Festival 2018 in Singapore in October, where Joko is scheduled to host a horror filmmaking master class.

Joko has also recently been tapped to make three films — Impetigore, Ghost in the Cell and The Vow — as part of a partnership inked by three production companies (two Indonesian, one South Korean) and Ivanhoe Pictures, the production company behind the popular film Crazy Rich Asians.

As for the development, Joko is tight-lipped about the new project, though he noted some of the films’ scripts were already done. The stories are still unknown, but it’s plausible that they could follow the trails blazed by Pengabdi Setan and A Mother’s Love.

“He’s always had impressive skills to build a back story,” Marissa said in praise of Joko.