IFFR 2009: THE FORBIDDEN DOOR Review

In December I didn't make a top 10 list of favorite movies I had seen in 2008. Last year was so turbulent for me that I think I didn't even see half of the movies that I was looking forward to, therefore any "best of" list I made would have been senseless.

On the other hand, even if I had seen everything I wanted some movies would still have made it onto that list. Surprisingly, Joko Anwar's "Kala: Dead Time" is one of those. It totally defied my expectations and was very pleasant on the eyes too. I happened upon it by chance, loved it and reviewed it.

So with happiness I read that his next movie "The Forbidden Door" would have its first screening outside of Indonesia at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
I have seen it and can conclude the following things:

1: "Kala: Dead Time" was no fluke.
2: Joko Anwar really loves that comic book noir look.
3: Joko Anwar really loves pulling the rug from under his audience's feet.

And, most importantly, number 4: Joko Anwar has a wicked mean streak hidden inside of him!

Read on after the break...

The Story:

Gambir is a successful sculptor, famous for his statues depicting highly pregnant women. He seems to have it all, but his success disgusts him for it is based on a sordid secret. Problem is, his agent knows this as well and blackmails Gambir into continuing this very lucrative business.
Worse, stress has made him impotent, and both his wife Talyda and his mother are constantly discussing various ways to get him ehm... performing again, as Talyda desperately wants a baby.

All this fades into the background when a couple of mysterious things happen. First, Gambir discovers a secret locked door in his cellar but his wife begs and pleads for him not to break it open, as it holds a secret from her past that she wants to keep hidden. Spineless as always, Gambir agrees.

Also, someone starts sending vague messages to Gambir. Messages that lead him to a secret society which allows its members to watch perverted reality shows on special television channels. One of these programs shows a young boy being terribly abused by his parents, with the audience speculating about how long the child will survive.

Sickened to the core Gambir tries to save the boy, but that means taking control of his own life and facing the thing which lies...

(...tum-tum-TUUUM!!!) ...BEHIND THE FORBIDDEN DOOR!


The Movie:

Good grief, this film turned a lot of heads and maybe even a stomach or two. Joko Anwar has written a mean rollercoaster of a movie here, from the brilliant Saul Bass-inspired opening credit sequence to a blooddrenched finale worthy of Fulci. At the twenty minute point a twist in the story is introduced which would normally be "the big reveal" at the end, but in this film it's just the beginning, a stepping stone to what's next. You might almost consider it as a friendly warning from the director, telling you how crazy he is planning to make the ending.

Getting there is a fun ride but to my regret I found myself losing connection with the main characters. The plot almost plays out like a reverse version of David Fincher's "The Game" but that movie kept you attached to (and feeling sympathetic for) the main character, faults and all. The same can be said of "Kala: Dead Time" which even had you rooting for several protagonists at the same time. But in "The Forbidden Door" any warm feelings you might have for Gambir and his plight ebb away after he makes a decision or two that I as a viewer just could not condone.
However, this is all obviously on purpose because it allows for some eh... pretty extreme actions from all characters at the end, making you wonder how Anwar is going to tie his story up.
That he manages to do so in a satisfying way is quite an achievement.

The same crew that made "Kala" look as good as it did was reused by Anwar to create "The Forbidden Door" and it shows. This movie looks insanely good in spots, as the screenshots (here and in the gallery) will attest.
Deeming the real Jakarta to be too dirty looking, Joko Anwar ordered a fake, cleaner version to be built using several big sets. Like with "Kala" this makes it seem as if the story takes place in some alternate universe where everything is slightly more stylish, colorful or menacing. The sheer amount of gloss and polish totally defies the small budget: the film cost less than 600.000 USD to make but easily looks ten times as expensive.

Also returning is most of the same cast of "Kala". Fachri Albar again does fine work as Gambir and Ario Bayu plays his best friend, although the latter this time doesn't get the chance to overshadow the rest of the cast. Marsha Timothy plays Talyda who may-or-may-not be a femme fatale, and she is good as well.

But the real star of the movie is once again the sultry atmosphere. This time the genre switches from comic book thriller, to mindfuck movie, to Grand Guignol horror, and while the mix isn't as delicious and surprising as it was in "Kala" it still looks mighty sweet. And again Joko Anwar amazingly manages to make it look like a coherent whole, covered in a "faux noir" look which is so recognizable that it should be patented.
What will he try next:

War movie, sports comedy and murder mystery?
Costume drama, hardcore pornography and science fiction?
Zombie splatter, teenage romance and Oscar bait?

Whatever it is I can only hope it will be just as entertaining as "The Forbidden Door" is.

Oh wait, he told me: it's going to a low-budget slasher film and he's giddily aiming to make it the goriest movie ever. Judging by what I've just seen, that statement sort of makes me afraid.
Very afraid...


Conclusion:

Joko Anwar wants to keep his movies accessable for the general public while telling them an outrageous story at the same time, and like with "Kala" it's amazing how well he succeeds. "The Forbidden Door" looks gorgeous (despite its budget!) and jumps effortlessly from genre to genre without alienating its audience.

Unfortunately as the story proceeds it becomes a rather mean-spirited affair which leaves you without a sympathetic protagonist to root for, and becomes over-the-top bloody which might be hard to stomach for a lot of people. I had no problem with this but I can imagine the finale getting a bit too strong a flavor for most. Getting there is a hoot though and you can almost FEEL Joko Anwar grinning evilly beside you during the ending...

The audience at the International Film Festival Rotterdam awarded "The Forbidden Door" a very respectable 4.0 out of 5 so maybe people are used to a lot more gore than I expected...

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