Dept of Heebie-Jeebies


With its beautiful jungle landscapes and rich history of Pontianaks, Penanggals, and a whole menagerie of Hantu (ghosts), Malaysian folklore is ripe for the big screen horror treatment. Is Roh the film that brings it to worldwide prominence similar to what J-horror experienced at the turn of the century?

Not quite.

Jungle Fever

In a rude hut, in an unnamed jungle, at an indiscriminate time, a woman and her two children eke out an paltry existence. Surviving off their chickens, what they catch in traps in the jungle,  and by producing charcoal for the village across the river. Their cabin is so basic it barely keeps out the light, never mind any threats that could be lurking in the jungle.

After a young girl caked in mud follows the children home one day, the family share what they can with the stray, before planning to take her to the aforementioned village to seek out her family. As more strangers appear in their isolated lives, so does one misfortune after another. Is it just bad luck or is something supernatural at play?

On the face of it Roh has the set up for an absolutely fantastic horror movie. The isolated location and unexplained imagery at the beginning plant just the right amount of trepidation in the audience, and it takes it’s horror premise far more seriously than say, the Hantu Kak Limah’s of this world, but doesn’t quite follow through to deliver the scares promised.

With his small cast and limited number of (beautiful) locations, director Emir Ezwan makes the most of his RM360,000 budget. Farah Ahmad, Mhia Farhana, and Harith Haziq are totally believable as this family cut off from the world.  The jungle location provides plenty of unearthly visuals, with the thicket often stretching overhead to form a canopy over proceedings, as the family stagger from one danger to the next.

Family Ties

When things start to go “bump” in the night, however, the building tension is too often released as daylight comes. Despite the occasional terrifying tableau, with two scenes in particular standing out, the slowly escalating horror that such a story should inspire over its 83 minute runtime, never quite comes together. It’s unfair to compare Roh to the a terrifying scares of the recent Ju-On Origins, but that’s a show that really knew how to terrify using the most mundane settings. Each new day in Roh tends to undo the tension and dread.

Things come to a head with the arrival of Tok (June Lojong) and Namron, who’s presence is apparently still a legal requirement for any Malaysian-made film (and a welcome one!). While the situation escalates, the nature and rules of the threat never quite become clear.

Beware the Namron!

The best horror movies either trap you within their “rules” or confront you with such unknowable horror that your mind flicnhes. Ezwan’s take, however, only becomes clear in the final moments of the film.

While it’s understandable for the director to hold back his secrets, the same behaviour from a character who is supposed to be trying to help the cursed family, just comes off as frustrating.

As the climax finally arrives, and the philosophy of Roh becomes clear, it doesn’t quite come together satisfactorily. An ending that should have left me full of dread ended up leaving me cold.

After Kuman Pictures’ previous movie, Two Sisters, ended with far too much explaining, Roh leaves a little too much unexplained. It still proves however, that there is plenty of potential in the Malaysian horror movie.

83 Minutes
Director: Emir Ezwan
Writer:  Emir Ezwan
Story: Nazri M. Annuar and Amir Hafizi
Cast: Farah Ahmad, Namron, Mhia Farhana, Harith Haziq, June Lojong, and Putri Qaseh

Roh is now showing in Malaysian cinemas.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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