Spiritually Mental – Roh

Having seen Emir Ezwan’s feature film debut, Ezzah Mahmud walked out of the cinema speechless.

‘Roh’ is a one of a kind horror film that promises a kind of viewing experience Malaysian audiences never thought they would need. Indeed, it has a unique theme and set of aesthetics, a clear story that do need some thinking through, and a great cast lineup.

It is an unusual kind of horror film, one that is different from what we had all these years. At the end of the premiere there was a standing ovation, signifying kudos to the director, Emir Ezwan, and Kuman Pictures as well, for being the team that is courageous and bold enough to make thoughtful films outside of the box, leaving its audience wanting more. Speaking of Emir, ‘Roh’ is his first feature film. The mastermind behind this beautifully-crafted film was previously known for his short film, ‘RM10’, as well as numerous television adverts.

‘Roh’ is about a family, with the mother (Farah Ahmad), her daughter Along (Mhia Farhana) and her son, Angah (Harith Haziq). They live in the jungle in their small and humble hut. The story starts when Along and Angah went to check on their animal trap, but they were ‘followed’ back by this ‘little girl’. From then on, things just got from bad to worse.

Without giving out too much about the story (so you can enjoy it fully in cinema), it is essentially about how a family went through the challenges and the bad omens that kept coming, hitting them hard one after another. Perhaps by being a single mother, the mother is a character whose love and strength will make audiences root for her till the end. It’s also different from many horror films out there. For instance, the jump scares are not annoying at all, as it is well-paced and on point with its usage.

There is much here that can appeal to a mainstream audience through its stunning shots, interesting angles, and loveable characters. The casting for this film is very well done, as all the actors conveyed a great performance. A few of them are even related! For instance, Farah Ahmad and Mhia Farhana are also a real-life mother and daughter pairing. I believe this makes their on-screen relationship seem effortless. Additionally, Tok (June Lojong) and the Man (Namron) is a married couple off screen. In that sense, this is a family film, even if it is not a family-friendly one.

At the same time, it can also be seen as an arthouse film. The film has a minimalistic theme with regards to most of its elements. The location of the film revolves around a forest, as that’s where they live, find food, and collect water, among others. The props and the set are designed to look homemade, staying true to its story of a family really making do with what they have and the resources they find in the forest.

In particular, I admire the costume design. It is simple, yet it remains coherent to its period’s essence, as well as the feel of the film. Different characters would wear different elements, like the batik, baju Melayu, and kebaya, as well as a wrap-around sling bag. The weapons are also suitable for the time, with parangs and lembings all making appearances. After all, who carries them now?

By the film’s end, there are questions raised without any immediate answers. Emir wants you to think and make your own judgement based on what you have seen. In that sense, I believe it is a simple film, but for you to be fulfilled, you have to dig deeper not only into what the film tries to portray, but also into yourself. In that regard, ‘Roh’ is truly a great effort by Emir Ezwan and his team; I am not a big fan of horror films, to be honest, but I would say that this is one of those that will change my mind.

Frankly, I really enjoyed watching ‘Roh’. It is such a nicely-made and well-shot film. It’s so pretty! The mise-en-scene really kept me hooked, and I did not feel the sense of time passing. The editing and colour correction are seamless. On top of the aforementioned cast, location and props, the story really kept me going until the end. That is the brilliant thing this film can offer: a strong story. With very little, you will still feel stuffed and satisfied by that which you can see. Seen full-scale on the big screen, it’s totally worth it!

‘Roh’ is in cinemas 19th March 2020. 

Featured image credit: Kuman Pictures

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