Shrouded (Insomnifest 2008)
Reviewed by Tristan Sinns
Starring Dwi Sasono, Kinaryosih, T. Rifnu Wikana
Directed by Rudi Soedjarwo
The bloody cycle of resentment and revenge is a bitter wheel that spins throughout all of humanity; wherever revenge is committed all too often a new victim is made, and then new revenge must be sought out to start up the two-part process all over again. It’s a vicious thing, sad, ultimately self-destructive, and entirely human. Our natural and innate need for retaliatory justice is powerful and the lengths people will take to achieve it can be self-consuming. It’s no surprise, then, that the most common sort of ghost story is that of the avenging spirit; that wronged innocent so unfairly cut down that they’ve clawed their way back from the dead to make for payment from the guilty.
Young Rustam is blamed for stealing goods from a small family run shop where he works, and is summarily terminated. Days later, riots break out in the city; destructive gangs of hoodlums stride through the street beating and looting what they can. Worse, some are bent on rape and murder. Stories fly through the city of some poor souls being burned alive. The mob passes up the small shop and the small family huddling inside until Rustam, seeing a quick opportunity for revenge, redirects their attention.
And then some really bad, and really sad, things start to happen.
Wisnu, the son of the family, survives the conflict; however he's torn and embittered from the savage loss of it all. He's aware that it was Rustam who directed the mob towards his family’s shop, and he cannot help but become obsessed with revenge; and he's not alone. Those who did not survive the attack also desire their own five pounds of flesh. Rustam becomes haunted by dark apparitions, while Wisnu, increasingly agitated and desiring to lash out at Rustam and his family, is outright encouraged by them.
Shrouded, or Dendam Pocong as it is known in its native Indonesia, is a dark and rather brutal film of revenge, both from the “real” world, as well as from the supernatural. There's a definite spiritual influence going on in the film, however the more savage violence is usually carried out by living human hands. The violence certainly isn’t as blood-soaked as a movie can be, however it was, at least for me, surprisingly brutal and manages to be rather gripping at times. The initial tempo of feels relatively calm and even mild mannered, so when the explosive violence of the riot opens up it is as surprising and unsettling as such violence really should be.
All the acting in Shrouded is well done and the young actors who play the key roles manage to convey their fear, their rage, and their burning resentment with a mean skill. There were moments that were touching, such as when Wisnu reached out to his suffering sister after the riot’s attack. Where Shrouded somewhat suffers is in a seemingly tangible loss of energy in the second act; there are moments where it feels drawn out and a little too slow. The ghostly scares themselves are often well or adequately done, though there are a couple flat notes. The keyhole scare, for example, could have been timed just a little better for much more effect. You’ll see what I mean.
The riots shown in Shrouded are very likely a reflection of the unfortunately real riots that tore through Jakarta in 1998. These riots played out similarly as shown in the film, with roving bands of thugs who brutalized, raped, and murdered small shop owners and other victims; killings that were often racially motivated. The film itself was banned in Indonesia for its violence, though I can imagine the government likely also wished to censure its content.
Given the general theme of the tortured living being inspired to violence by the whispering dead, I can’t help but be reminded of the demonic suggestive in Session 9: "I live in the weak and the wounded," it said. And so it does.
3 1/2 out of 5
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