Rumah Dara | Indonesia | 2009 | Directed by The Mo Brothers
Logline: A group of friends encounter a traumatised young woman and return her to her mother only to be trapped and brutality set upon by the young woman, her two brothers, and their mother.
Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel directed a short film, Dara, in 2007 which received much acclaim on the international festival circuit. This lead to a feature based around the central character, Dara (played in both by Shareefa Daanish), a flawless, almost doll-like woman with murderous and macabre tastes. The Indonesian title of the feature is Rumah Dara (translating, roughly, as "Dara’s Home"), whilst in Singapore the movie was known as Darah (meaning "Blood"), and for the international release it was re-titled Macabre, not the most original of titles, but let me tell you this is one of the more visceral and gruesome dances of death!
Adjie (Ario Bayu), his pregnant wife Astrid (Sigi Wimala), his sister Ladya (Julie Estelle), and two friends, Eko (Dendy Subngil) and Alam (Mike Muliadro) are heading on a road trip when a dazed young woman, Maya (Imelda Therinne), wanders in front of their van. She claims to have been robbed and needs help. The group intend to drop her off at her family home, but Maya convinces them to meet her mother, Dara, and two older brothers Arman (Ruly Lubis) and Adam (Arifin Putra). Dara insists the group stay for a dinner feast, and Astrid is happy to rest up for a short while.
The striking and immaculate Dara is spellbinding in her speech and body language. At the very beginning of the movie an old Super-8 film is being projected depicting three children being shown illustrations of anatomy by Dara, who looks the same, and then being supervised in the ritualistic stabbing murder of a man, tied to a chair. While waiting for dinner to be served Ladya peruses the homestead photo collection and notices a photo of beautiful Dara dated 1889 … and she looks exactly the same. There is something very, very weird going on, and the night is still young and ripe for much bloodletting.
The motive for this murderous family is revealed briefly about half-hour through the movie - adding to the movie’s very sly, blackly comic tone - when a car arrives at Dara’s home to make a pickup of precious produce. Just how does Dara stay looking so young and beautiful? It seems there is a smell of tribal philosophy in the air; consume your enemies to make yourself stronger, more invincible. Later, a bunch of undercover cops turn up at the house, and the director duo push their tongues deep inside their cheeks.
The Mo Brothers (who went on to deliver a stand-out segment in V/H/S 2) designed Macabre to be an alternate approach to Indonesian horror which, in the past, was mostly mystical and supernatural in nature. They openly admit to be inspired by Western slasher movies, but theirs is less like an American stalk’n’slash (and let's face it, much of which are fairly tepid in atmosphere) and more like a European assault on the senses in its atmospheric intensity and striking mise-en-scene. I'm reminded more of High Tension, Frontier(s), and Inside, than The Strangers, House of Wax, or Mother’s Day.
The stand-out performances belong to the women of the movie; Julie Estelle, Imelda Therinne, and, of course, the commanding Shareefa Daanish, with her deep voice, elegant poise, and those black eyes like pools of demonic oil. As the matriarch, Dara, she is like a deadly snake, and her home is a lair for consumption. On the technical front, Toni Arnold’s vivid cinematography is a standout, also a nod to the composers too, Yudi Arfani and Zeke Khaseli, and to the great work by the special effects crew, both in the prosthetics department, and the CGI enhancements.
Macabre is horrorphile heaven; soaked in atmosphere, drenched in blood, and seeping a genuine creepiness, and as I like to say, one for the True Believers.