If you have seen Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, you may also remember the controversial and polarizing reactions that movie had at the time. Craven’s movie appealed to a certain audience of adrenaline junkies, thrill seekers and edgy teenagers that craved nothing more than to disobey their heavily religious parents. This contentious subgenre known as the rape-revenge thriller or “exploitation film” isn’t as widely talked up to this day but it is, in fact, receiving some sort of resurrection. In the midst of some remakes from the 70s and 80s, there’s a healthy dosage of auteurs and up-and-coming filmmakers that are exploring the subject matter while experimenting with tone, execution and genre fusion. MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS certainly does posses a talented crew that cared heavily about the final product but it isn’t always as adventurous as it hopes.
As soon as the film kicks off, we are instantly roped into Yunus Pasolang’s world of gorgeous cinematography. The grainy and rough desert landscapes are brought to life as the main antagonist emerges from the distance, kicking the four upcoming acts into motion. The world that is visually developed leaves a bitter taste that eventually swells into an unrequited love affair with the audience. At various points, it becomes reminiscent of an early Tarantino flick; only if he was creating mumblecore-esque thrillers with tamer scenes of violence.
The first act appeals to me the most when I think about the film’s overall quality. Marsha Timothy’s reserved performance throughout the moments of dramatic irony and intimidating character conflict creates an eerie tone that gives the viewer a feeling of anxiety that refuses to diminish for the rest of the runtime. When the two characters confront at the beginning of the film, there is a surprising but subtle anti-chemistry (reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ English works THE LOBSTER and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) that makes the intimate storytelling feel like it would be best suited for a hyper-realistic stage play. This is the peak of the film, from the standpoint of lasting distinctiveness.
The drop off the narrative experiences is not strong enough to completely make the film void of any sort of serviceable style/substance. It mostly creates a hill with a slow but steady decrease that becomes more and more obvious as the film continues. Most topics that the film momentarily touches on create brief interest before quickly decimating into a pit of annoyance. I can imagine these subplots and scattered ideas becoming more effective if there was a splinter of development behind them.
The inconsistent pace, fractured structure and unanswered questions leave me feeling slightly underwhelmed with the inevitable finale. Although, these flaws don’t create a black hole that suck every mineral of enjoyment from the film, they just end up holding the narrative back from becoming something increasingly special. It is most definitely one of the better pieces of Indonesian filmmaking of recent memory and it is worth seeing overall for the serious talent that is being portrayed on screen. I just wish that it kept the same energy that it possessed during the rising action.
MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS is now in limited theatrical release in Canada, with a iTunes and VOD release on July 17th.