By Archana Pillai

Brothers Feisal Azizuddin and Iskander Azizuddin bring you a horror movie as their second feature film after Temenggor. Passionate about camera and action from a very tender age, these boys have grown to become visionary filmmakers.

Suraya is definitely not a typical Hollywood horror typified with darkness and shadows, shrieks and jump scares. What it definitely is though is an invitation to explore your iman (faith) against just humanly temptations.

Spoilers ahead

The movie takes a rather cherry beginning: Nabila (played by Farihin Rufiya) and Adam (Amir Rahim) embark on a road trip to the countryside of Negeri Sembilan, for Nabila’s vlog. Nabila has the trip planned and Adam drives them out into the outskirts for an escape from the city. He secretly plans his wedding proposal to Nabila. The young couple lose their way in the wilderness in pursuit of Kampung Gentam. Phone signals are lost. They come to drive almost past what seems to be a homestay. Seeking for help with directions from the welcoming host, they are invited to seek refuge in this rather lonely place. Homestay Abadi is a hauntingly beautiful kampung house with Minangkabau architecture, blessed with lush greenery, layered roof and stairs that lead to different portions of the house.

This is where they meet Cik Suraya (Ainul Aisyah), the manager of Homestay Abadi. She is dressed in figure-hugging kebaya and wears Javanese-like kerongsang, classical head accessory and garnet red lipstick. Basically, Suraya is an enchantress. Her words are whispers of seduction and she convinces you to come around her ways.

What may stir your stomach is the grim paintings in the separate rooms Adam and Nabila are in. Then there is one room that is out of bounds to the couple – the room of Suraya’s late husband. Adam is enchanted by the glass of air janda pulang served by Suraya.

One night becomes two. Nabila squirms in discomfort to leave the place, not being able to sleep, refusing the drink from the first day somehow and drawing further away from her fiance -to-be. Meanwhile, Adam draws in closer to Suraya as she continues to cast eyes on him. There are warm touches to getting bare by the river and moans behind closed doors. Nabila then finds Adam naked in the room upon Suraya’s exit. There is no second guessing of what happened in the room. Yes, Suraya is possessed and she has lured Adam to her benefit.

Distraught by the sight of Adam, Nabila attempts to escape the wicked place, only to be “saved” by Pak Kassim, the gardener who brought her back to the homestay. Everything gets dark from here.  The film, which is slow-paced before, now unfurls a series of shamanic events. Without attention, you will be lost and left wondering about what has just happened. Literally, Nabila wakes up in a darkroom next to motionless Adam, another body wrapped in white cloth head to toe and Pak Kassim going complete bonkers.

Nabila attempts to save Adam and make an escape. Eventually, she learns that Aishah, the servant girl has always been part of the mischief of Cik Suraya. Fighting her way through, Aishah stabs Adam and that’s the end of him. With wits to survive, Nabila makes her escape and comes to meet two backpackers in the middle of the night. Nabila is now out. It is the break of dawn and a new day at Homestay Abadi.

The director, Iskander makes a cameo-appearance towards the end of the movie, making acting look very natural to him.

Production and inside scoop

It took a tight budget of less than RM100, 000 with a compact team of 5 crew members and 5 casts, most of them first timers. With such a budget, the team definitely pulled it off. Kudos!

The horror of the movie extends beyond what is presented on screen but also to the events that  transpired behind the scenes. During the film premiere, Feisal, the director shared that they had a chain of unpleasant events that were supernatural in nature: from a flock of dead birds on set to demonic possession and unexplained technical issues. If the movie doesn’t scare you, this might do it.

The cinematography is definitely worth the mention. Despite the basic village set, the movie serves pretty angles and shots, from scenic aerial views to close-up shots.

Strong women but stereotypical roles?

Suraya, Nabila and Aishah are self-reliant roles, leading the story in their own pursuit. They take action in their own hands, being able to think, act and respond in situations without having to be saved. Having mentioned that, of course it had to be Suraya that was the host to a demon and not say, Amirul or Mohammed. And it was she who lured Adam, as though Adam needed the luring to be a “victim” of female attention.  In this way, the movie can be said to still rely on stereotypes of women.

The end to new beginnings?

The film leaves viewers with many questions: what was it that possibly made Nabila excuse herself insistently from drinking the air janda pulang? If  Nabila had drank it, would she have been the victim of Suraya’s seduction? What’s the true backstory for Suraya and what is this air janda pulang? Where is Kampung Gentam anyway? We are left hanging at the end of the movie to wonder.

We look forward to a sequel – perhaps a prequel.

About Archana Pillai

Archana Pillai graduated from the International Medical University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in 2013. She has extended her service as a programmer, writer and facilitator in the area of youth capacity building, project/people manager and community development for nine years now. Passionate in helping people to be themselves through creative grounds using writing, expressive arts and applied theater, Archana has developed and organised programs on diversity, culture and well-being in Malaysia and the region.