Film Review: Modus Anomali (2012)

SYNOPSIS:

In the middle of a lush forest, a man bursts out of a shallow grave, panting for breath. He has no knowledge of who he is or how he got there. Dazed, he makes his way to a nearby cabin only to find his wife dead, his two children missing and somebody trying to kill him.

REVIEW:

An excellent psychological horror-thriller that sets up a baffling premise, then consistently wrong-foots the audience for an hour before finding time to offer an ingenious, satisfying and in its own way deeply disturbing climax.

This is one of those films where the central character discovers information about his situation bit by bit at the same time as the audience; so it would be wrong of me to reveal much more than the bare bones of the plot. A good percentage of the effectiveness of this movie is bound up in the audience – like the central character – not knowing what on earth is going on. I don’t mean that in a M. Night Shyamalan sense, where the whole movie hinges on one giant reveal at the end; rather that director Joko Anwar not only keeps you in the dark but also pulls off the neat trick of wrong-footing you just when you think you’ve worked out what’s going on.

Similarly, it would be unfair of me to cite examples of films that MODUS ANOMALI reminded me of, because that would give away certain clues as to what’s happening. Suffice it to say that the opening sequence and general approach is in some respects (not least visually) similar to the recent Adrien Brody thriller WRECKED. In my view, MODUS ANOMALI is the better film of the two: far more intriguing and definitely a lot more challenging.

I’m ashamed to say that my knowledge of the Indonesian film industry, of which this film is a product, is pitifully limited. Traditionally, Japan has led the way for Asian cinema in the west although China and the Philippines also have strong indigenous film cultures. As I understand it, film production in Indonesia is currently experiencing something of a boom following a fallow period, to put it mildly, from the end of the 1990s when hardly any films were being made at all. Several of these films have been picked by US distributors with the result that Indonesian films are now being seen much more widely in overseas markets.

Part of the reason for their success is that they deliver the goods in a form that is easily assimilated by western audiences, that is to say pretty generic product which contains little that would mark it out as being uniquely Indonesian. In the long term that’s a concern because let’s face it there are already enough anonymous features being made and if the concept of a national cinema is to mean anything at all then sooner or later developing film industries such as Indonesia’s are going to have to start reflecting their own culture, rather than aping other people’s. However, in the short term, producing high-quality work in familiar genres – action, horror – will enable Indonesian film-makers to get a start and provide a boost to their industry, not to mention their economy.

MODUS ANOMALI is a good example of this: it’s a very well made film which uses familiar elements but manages to do something new with them. It will keep you guessing all the way through and at least twice will throw you completely. The acting is excellent and the dubbing, which can be a real problem in Asian cinema, is hardly noticeable. Furthermore the cinematography is stunning: beautiful widescreen shots of the forest are contrasted with real in-your-face handheld stuff for when the action gets more intense. I can’t recommend this highly enough – it’s quality film-making in anyone’s language.

Modus Anomali (2012)

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