Remember the film ‘Snakes on a Plane’? It was a film made a number of years ago, and had a huge buzz going for it simply because it was a film about snakes on a plane. There’s a B grade feel to it with a strong cult film potential. Samuel L. Jackson, the film’s star, even signed up for it simply because of the film’s title.
I’m not sure whether this film had the same buzz, but I did feel like it was going for much of the same audience. It positions itself as a monster film, a unique enough proposition in the context of Malaysian cinema. It’s not all that original, to be frank, but the fact remains that it does have plenty of space in the genre all to itself.
The film tells the story of a group of people who won the chance to stay at a new vacation resort on a remote island. Unfortunately, what the owner of the resort did not tell them was that the island is populated by lots of snakes. Big, giant snakes that’s willing to attack the humans at any time. They had taken the safety precaution of fencing in the snakes with an electric fence, but soon enough, the power went down and the madness begins.
You’ll notice that the synopsis above did not necessarily mention the name of characters. That’s because for the most part, they are not characters as much as caricatures, 2D personifications of stock standard people to die. Small attempts were made at humanising some of them a bit more, and yes, more focus was given to Maira (Lisa Surihani) and Remy (Yusry Abdul Halim), primarily because they’re the stars carrying this film.
Everybody else, though, appears to be living, breathing stereotypes, with Pak Mus (Harun Salim Bachik), for example, living up to the horny old man ideal. Can we blame him? After all the way the likes of Amy (Zarina Anjoulie Lavocah) have been presented in this film did not exactly scream virginal, and we are invited to perve on her as much as Pak Mus did.
On the other end of the scale, JC (Chew Kin Wah) and Boy (Shukri Yahaya) is a couple of conspicuously homosexual characters that, almost predictably, meet their maker first. That wasn’t really a spoiler, as it occurred early. In the film, it’s not so much a question of who survives, but rather, who dies in what order.
What determines that, though? I’m not entirely sure, but I can guess that the level with which people has committed sin in the film is a key factor. The aforementioned couple of JC and Boy trespasses on what the reported majority of Malaysians would consider acceptable, so they died first.
This theory was solidified further by subsequent deaths. I’ll let you watch and figure it out by yourself, given that it’s the only thing in the film not laid out for us with markers from a mile away. In spite (or perhaps because) of this, my opinion remains that this film is an attempt to reinforce the boundaries of society.
This is applicable even to the main characters, Maira and Remy. Though they are both colleagues for the same newspaper, theirs is a frosty relationship, one that hints more than once at a certain past. Remy is keen to mend bridges, but Maira remains distant, unwilling to go down a path well trodden.
As the story progress, though, they both appear to be more willing to close the gap, though the fact that snakes are about to come and eat them alive may well have had something to do with it. Again, I do believe that this film (perhaps subconsciously) attempts to recalibrate the main characters into a form of social integration more acceptable than most; the final character Maira tries to help to safety is an indication of what the ideal couple should be like in Malaysia.
Beyond that, I have to praise the visual effects team for doing a fairly decent job. This film relies a lot on the snakes to help deliver on its buzz. For the most part, the snakes are well integrated into the shots, and you have to look for the CGIness (how obvious the CGI work is) to know that it’s CGI. There are a couple of shots in which that’s not the case, but if anything, it helps to make it even more of a B grade movie in a positive way.
I believe this gives it the biggest chance of success in its post-cinema life. It made a respectable RM1 million at the box office (even if it did cost nearly twice that amount), but the fact remains that this is a unique entry in Malaysian cinema. Regionally, countries like Thailand and Cambodia have often featured snakes on their silver screens, so at the very least, ‘Ular’ is not alone in that regard.
Even if you didn’t like the film and can’t wait for it to end, it runs for slightly over 70 minutes, so it’ll come soon enough.
Fikri was scared to feature the picture of a real snake, so you’ll have to make do with that cartoon. This film was nominated in the Best Visual Effects and Best Newcomer (Shukri Yahaya) categories at the 26th Malaysian Film Festival.
Featured image credit: Wikipedia