Wednesday, September 16, 2009

5:13 - Tensed Atmospheric Thriller

5:13 (psychological thriller)
Cast: Samantha Tan, Iki Putra and Chua Su-Ann
Director: Arivind Abraham
Time: 85 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Iki Putra and Samantha Tan in 5:13

PREAMBLE: After his 2006 feature debut, 'S'kali', indie director Arivind Abraham tries his hand at the horror genre with 5:13, a title that specifically denotes 5:13am as well as a wink to the May 13 racial riots in Malaysia in 1969. Apparently, Abraham and co-writer Keith Leong got their inspiration from a massive blackout in Malaysia in 1996 - and let their imagination run wild with it.

You are not likely to find deranged killers, zombies, werewolves or vampires on the rampage here, but visions of these horrors will play furtively on your mind as you spend one pre-dawn morning with Vivien at her home in suburban Malaysia.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Vivien (Samantha Tan, pictured) awakes on the night of her wedding anniversary to find herself alone. Richard, her journalist husband, is apparently still at work. However, what is disturbing her is that an emergency broadcast on the radio refers to disturbances and chaos all over the country - and the whole neighbourhood is engulfed in a blackout. The phone line is also dead.

All Vivien knows about Richard's whereabouts is that he is at some village chasing a story about a bomoh (witch doctor) and she suspects that there is some connection between the two. As the night wears on, she is startled by strange noises and weird screams. And then, out of the blue, her husband's best friend Ashad (Iki Putra) comes to visit, bearing a strange message from Richard on his phone. Vivian and Ash's conversations give us an inkling into their triangle relationship as well as reopen deep wounds between them. Soon, as the situation outside seems to worsen, Vivien and Ash learn that what you trust can hurt you.

HITS & MISSES: One thing we can all appreciate about Abraham's direction is that he does not rely on cheap thrills like sudden loud noises or creaking doors to jolt us. Instead, he carefully shapes the mood and atmosphere so that we can scare ourselves. The whole movie is shot (by Luke Yerbury) in minimal lighting, heightening our sense of dread and foreboding. As we accompany Viv and Ash at the semi-furnished house, we keep expecting demons and other untold evil to break through the door and wreak havoc.

Abraham, a keen 'student' of M. Night Shyamalan's films, also works on our curiosity. Vivian, apparently, is suffering from some debilitating ailment and needs constant medication, while Ash has some sinister deeds hidden in his closet. Can these problems be all in her mind? Will Ash reveal himself as someone or something else?

However, Abraham's grip on the audience is tenuous at best. He loses us because his pacing lapses. After working up our fear and foreboding, he turns to a scene in which the 'trapped' couple plays Monopoly! If that is meant to be 'comic relief' (or tension relief), it fails to work on the audience because they are still trying to SEE what is going on (it's an electricity blackout, remember?).

I don't have any issues with the performances of the leads who are newcomers. Iki Putra acquits himself nicely as the mysterious old flame while Samantha Tan has us rooting for her as the damsel in distress. However, it is a good thing that Abraham included subtitles as some of Tan's dialogue are inaudible.

THE LOWDOWN: A promising sophomore effort. (Read the S'kali review here).


At 4:12 pm, Blogger Arivind Abraham said...

One person, for me as a director, that works so well is Priscilla Patrick. Malaysians are so used to her voice, the effect is nothing short of creepy.

At 8:34 pm, Blogger Lim Chang Moh said...

Ya, she's a casting coup.


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