The Jakarta Post
Most Indonesians know tuyul, a bare-chested boy ghost who picks pockets. Some people even dare to accuse a person who has a stroke of good fortune of being master of a tuyul.
With that clichÃ© in mind, the latest Indonesian horror movie, Tuyul Part 1, is a breakthrough, presenting a tale of a creepier version of the local ghost and a family's deep, dark secret.
Rather than spooking with horror, the movie invests in suspense and jumpy moments that keep members of the audience on the edge of their seats and practically tingling down the spine.
The movie follows Mia (Dinda Kanya Dewi), a pregnant woman, and her workaholic husband, Daniel (Gandhi Fernando), as they move to a mountainous area for Daniel's tea plantation project ambitions.
To save money, the couple stays in an empty house owned by Mia's mother (Karina Nadila).
When cleaning up the house's attic for his work space, Daniel finds an empty bottle and opens it, without realizing that he is releasing a tuyul from confinement.
The tuyul takes the form of a short, slender grey man with the facial features of a goblin with a bloated, rough-surfaced head.
Terror begins haunting Mia. A low screeching voice calls her, and a mysterious figure behind the dark throws her a small ball over and over again.
She hardly gets any attention or help from Daniel, who is infuriated by his failure to secure a plantation project.
To abate her loneliness in the house, Mia hires the former maid of her mother, Bi Inah (Inggrid Widjanarko), a mysterious old lady clad in a kebaya. But it doesn't help her in coping with the terror. Concerns over her unborn baby intensify when Mia begins to have nightmares about tuyul.
She suspects that her gothic psychic neighbor, Karina (Citra Prima), has something to do with the ghost. The terror leads Mia to unshroud the mystery behind an old painting of her mother and siblings and the unexpected death of her father.
The movie is the latest horror vision presented by emerging director Billy Christian, who previously combined a local myth surrounding a volcanic eruption with the walking dead in Kampung Zombie (Zombie Village).
Unlike in the zombie flick, on which he share director credit with Helfi Kardit, Billy has more freedom in crafting the Tuyul movie, including in developing the ghost character.
Instead of depicting the simple image of the simple little boy ghost often depicted in television series, Billy creates a character close to the real one, as projected through the sixth sense of Citra Prima, the movie's actress who gained fame as an investigator of haunted places in television show Masih Dunia Lain (The Other World).
'Citra describes to me the physical features. To the character, I add a screeching sound and its crawling style,' Billy said.
The tuyul's slim grey body and its creepiness in some ways remind us of the Lord of the Rings' Gollum. At first, the tuyul may chill you to the bone, but as the clock ticks on it seems like just another little creature that is struggling to freak you out.
In some scenes, Bi Inah has even more chills than the crawling tuyul. Played well by Inggrid Widjanarko, Bi Inah is a cold mysterious old maid with a deep flat voice, sparking the suspicion that she may be a ghost.
There is a certain quality about the character of Mia, a vulnerable pregnant mother. It enables Billy to build the ultimate pregnancy worry ' having a tuyul baby, among other things. The character is well-acted by Dinda, who is better known for her roles in soap operas.
Playing the integral character of Daniel, Gandhi falls short of being convincing as a furious, workaholic husband. In scenes in which Daniel is furious with his wife, Gandhi yells loudly, but he seems more confused than angry.
In this limited-budget horror flick, Billy did not have the luxury of using many CGI effects, which turned out to be a good thing. He plays with camera angles to create thrilling illusions, such as when women in the painting reach out and grab Mia.
In another part, some movie-goers might hold their breath when Mia plays a video recording on her handycam that shows a moment when she uses small crabs in an attempt to capture ghosts.
At its heart, the movie is a story of motherhood, wicked ambition, a dark legacy of a family and false suspicion that leads to a witch-hunt ' as happens in some local communities. Incorporating the local ghost and dark mystical tradition, Tuyul Part 1 has the potential to be a shiver-inducing tale.
Penned by Luvie Melati, Billy and Gandhi, the 97-minute feature wraps up with a feeble horror chase scene, but it opens the door to a promising sequel for the trilogy.
The movie may fail to chill your bones, but Tuyul Part 1, with its original ghost character and presenting the dark ancient witchcraft of a family, deserves kudos.
Let's hope that Billy can bring more horror in Tuyul's second installment that brings nightmares not only to Mia, but also to horror movie buffs.
' Photos courtesy of Renee Pictures