Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lost in the Woods

Ritual (Modus Anomali)

At the end of Ritual (Modus Anomali, 2012, directed by Joko Anwar), I wanted to refer to the movie by the title of "Ritual in Transfigured Time," after the old short film by Maya Deren, because, to an extent, this film would fit that title to a "T." No insult meant to Maya Deren, of course. This is a film that turns back on itself. It starts as a survival narrative, and ends with a death impulse. It's not entirely successful at this.

This starts with a man digging himself out of a shallow grave, somewhere in the middle of a forest. He doesn't know who he is or how he got there. His cellphone, though it has signal, has no information in it. He stumbles out of the woods to a house where there's a woman lying dead in the middle of the living room, murdered with a machete. There's also a camcorder set up, on which is a tape of the woman being murdered. Is the woman the man's wife? What about the rest of the family? Unfortunately, the man isn't in the woods alone. There's another man, usually appearing at a distance holding a machete in his hand. And what of the kids of the murdered woman? They're in the woods somewhere, too. Our hero pieces together the chain of events that led him to this situation, but the answers don't seem to add up. Not until he finds another body...

This is a well made, state-of-the-art survival horror film. It has talent behind the camera that knows how to frame its shots, how to focus on a point of view, and how to edit the film for maximum suspense. This is no small thing and it floats the film as it heads over the falls at the end. I want to say that this film surprised me, but I would be lying. The way it averts its gaze every time the antagonist appears suggested to me that there were shenanigans afoot and I was not disappointed by an ending that turns everything back on itself. I don't want to say that the film cheats, as rug-pulling puzzle movies sometimes do, but I will say that I wish the film hadn't gone where it goes.

And, of course, I'm writing my way around what happens in the end because spoilers and all that.

Director Joko Anwar clearly knows how to put a film together, but I question his decision to film in English (the film is Indonesian). Oh, sure, it expands his market, but it also gives the film a disjointed quality every time there's dialogue. Thankfully, that's not often. He also struggles to give the film any kind of meaning. When I got to the final shots of the film, I started to wonder about the point of this thing. It's a closed system, a snake eating its tail, and while nightmare logic can certainly work that way, it's frustrating.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 30

First Time Viewings: 24

Note: It's taking me longer to churn through the final challenge posts than I expected. I beg your indulgence in this.

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