Macabre was a complete unknown before I sat down to watch it at the 2011 Vancouver Indonesian Film Festival. Not even the program notes fully prepared one for what to expect. The first fifteen or so minutes seem to be banally shot digital footage concerning a group of friends and their visit to Ario Bayus sister Julie Estelle. Things become slightly but not overly strange with the introduction of Imelda Therinne as a mystery girl who claims to have been robbed and asks for a ride home, before inviting the group in to meet her family. From these scenes, Macabre seemed to be shaping up to be yet another Asian horror story, one that feels as though the filmmakers are straining to create an atmosphere of something sinister scenes like those of members of the party spooking others with animal skulls come across as very try-hard. Nothing however could be further from the truth.
From about the point of the dinner party, Macabre opens up into something else altogether. In a head-spinningly abrupt space of time, the banal exchanges of the early sections slide into full-on Torture Porn brutality scenes with Mike Muliadro being pursued through the house by Imelda Therinne slashing at him with a knife; Sigi Wimala barricading herself in the bedroom, only for Arifin Putra to stab her in the hand right through the door; the others tied up in the cellar watching through a hole in the door as Ruly Lubris beheads, then eviscerates and removes the organs from Mike Muliadro.
It rapidly becomes apparent that Macabre is an Indonesian variant on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The Mo Brothers appropriate the plot basics from Texas Chain Saw a group of innocents who stray into a house off the beaten road where they are abducted, tortured and killed by a very strange family. The Mo Brothers never do a huge amount to offer explanations there is some suggestion of occult rituals and a set of photos that indicate that Shareefa Daanishs matriarch was the same age back in the 19th Century, while the family want Sigi Wimalas newborn child for reasons that may well have something to do with their being immortal and possibly also having supernatural strength and invulnerability to damage. There is also something to do with removing peoples organs for collection by a mystery couple where what is going on is not exactly clear.
Wisely, The Mo Brothers do not dwell on the details too long and simply jump in and let the blood flow. And flow it does. In fact, Macabre emerges as the bloodiest film to hit screens in the Backwoods Brutality cycle since the French Frontier(s) (2007). There is an amazing bloodbath featuring the slaughter of a group of cops, including Arifin Putra hacking off limbs, Shareefa Daanish jabbing a stiletto heel into one downed cops eyeball, Imelda Therinne sitting on the chest of one of the cops and repeatedly stabbing him, and the head cop having his head battered in by Shareefa Daanish with his own rifle butt. The film reaches a remarkable climax that features Arifin Putra being burned alive and continuing on until he is stabbed in the crotch and his head torn off; Shareefa Daanish attacking Julie Estelle with a chainsaw and being strangled to death in an insane frenzy, before making a cliche return from the dead and finally being despatched by being run into a tree while clinging to the drivers door of the police van. During these scenes, the house becomes covered in so much blood that the combatants are constantly slipping over.
The find of the film is Shareefa Daanish who plays with a spooky intensity not seen on the screen since Eihi Shiina in Takashi Miikes Audition (1999) a film that Macabre often resembles in its move from placid quiet to an increasingly wilder, all-out bloodbath. Shareefa Daanish plays with a coldness and regal aloofness that is made all the more frightening by her perfectly made up doll-like features, impeccably bound hair and spotless red-and-white ensemble. By the time of the climax with Daanish in a white dress, taking on Julie Estelle with a chainsaw, Macabre seems to have entered a totally wild territory.
The Indonesians show they are more than capable of holding up in the horror stakes just as well as any equivalent Western attempts and Macabre emerges as one of the most enthusiastically outrageous bloodbaths in recent memory. In fact, The Mo Brothers do a far better job of borrowing and making the Texas Chain Saw Massacre basics work than Rob Zombie did in the absurdly posturing House of 1000 Corpses (2003).
The Mo Brothers subsequently made Killers (2014) about a friendship between two serial killers and the non-genre action film Headshot (2016). On his own, Timo Tjahjanto has contributed episodes to two horror anthologies the completely wild L is for Libido segment of The ABCs of Death (2012) and the Safe Haven episode of V/H/S/2 (2013).
(Nominee for Best Actress (Shareefa Daanish) at this sites Best of 2009 awards)
(Screening Courtesy of the Vancouver Indonesian Film Festival)