My bet is that, if one were to do the research, it would be discovered that nearly every country with a half-decent film industry has its own version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Macabre is Indonesia’s take on the 1974 classic—and it’s a pretty damn good take, blending Chainsaw with more modern and explicitly gory films like Inside.
In Macabre (aka Rumah Dara; Darah), pregnant couple, Astrid and Adjie, are headed to the Jakarta airport from which they’ll be flying to Australia. Accompanying them are Adjie’s estranged sister, Ladya, and a few guy friends, Alam, Jimmy, and Eko. Along the way, they pick up an attractive young woman who claims to have been robbed and give her a ride home.
Once there, the young woman, Maya, invites them in to meet her mother, Dara, who insists on cooking them a meal to show her gratitude. Though Maya seems normal enough, even charming, Dara has the look of a storefront mannequin brought to life. The friends are soon introduced to Maya’s two brothers, Adam and Armand. Armand is a quiet, doughy lump, while Adam is clearly his mother’s son; he’s odd to the point of being threatening.
It’s one of those situations in which the viewer wonders “What would I do?” but no easy answer is forthcoming. On the one hand, these people—Dara and Adam in particular—are creepy as hell. On the other hand, one has to be polite and, hell, all they want to do is feed me. Just goes to show that being polite can get you killed.
Tension builds slowly but steadily until Alam wakes alone at the now bare dinner table and the crazy begins. And I mean crazy. Macabre is one of the gorier movies I’ve recently seen; by the end of the film, Dara’s house, an old, rambling thing, is practically painted with blood.
A definite hero isn’t established until about two-thirds of the way through the film so, until then, there’s a sense that anyone of the characters could die at any moment. This serves to keep the intensity high and, in fact, the filmmakers manage to sustain the intensity throughout.
No small feat, given that they set the intensity bar pretty damn high, but they’re creative about it, splashing onto the screen such gems as a room full of baby bones, a film showing a truly unorthodox example of home-schooling, and a stiletto heal piercing an eyeball.
The very first kill is spectacularly bloody and uses music to ratchet up the intensity and creepiness. There’s also a great, relatively bloodless scene in which hunter and prey crouch on either side of a closed door. What follows is perfectly timed and highly effective.
The film includes elements of torture but, for the most part, the kills are quick and gory; the brutality is on par with the best—or the worst, depending on your perspective—modern Slashers. Tension is created through both quiet, almost subtle action taking place in the background, as well as through screaming chase scenes, ensuring that the movie’s hold on its audience never loosens, never wavers.
Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Macabre features a family of maniacs, including a fat guy who does the grunt work, though this one looks more like an accountant or middle-manager than he does a butcher. Maya is fun to watch as she grins over the blade of her knife. Adam, the Indonesian equivalent of a Ken doll and family killing machine, demonstrates some impressive Michael Myers-level strength and stamina. Dara goes from cool, crossbow-wielding animatronic to screeching cat with a head full of wasps.
Macabre does run a little long, so that, after a time, I felt almost exhausted by what took place onscreen; I just wanted it to finally wind down and give me a break. Though it leads to some pretty great kills, I’m not certain that the scenes involving the police were necessary; focusing on the friends and their plight would’ve been enough (though those scenes did teach me that the standards for Indonesian cops appears to be quite freakin’ low).
Overall, Macabre is a strong Slasher that mixes suspense and gore beautifully to produce a film well-worth seeking out. See it.
Note I: The film is actually a joint Indonesian-Singaporean production; I refer to it as Indonesian in the review because all dialogue is in Indonesian.
Note II: The film was initially released in Indonesia in 2009, while its North American release was in 2010.
Length: 95 min