NYAFF 09 Review: THE FORBIDDEN DOOR

[Our thanks to Joshua Chaplinsky for the following review.]

I’m a sucker for anything Lynchian, that special brand of weirdness encompassing the dark and bizarre. Invariably, the eponymous term is slapped on as a selling point, and anything described as such is doomed to disappoint. Fortunately for The Forbidden Door, Lynch isn’t its sole influence (despite some obvious nods.) The film is a tasty amalgamation of Lynch, Hitchcock, Hostel, Videodrome, Takashi Miike, The Usual Suspects
and Shakespeare. That’s right, The Bard himself.

The Forbidden Door is directed by Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar, whose Kala wowed audiences at the 2008 festival. It is the story of Gambir, he of the pretty hair, a struggling artist with a whole lot of problems. What kind of problems, you ask? How about a controlling wife? A child-obsessed mother who keeps tabs on his sperm count? Best friends who are not what they seem? And, oh yeah, the dead fetus of his aborted child is encased in one of his sculptures.

When his art becomes a success, it can only mean one thing- more abortions. (What is it with Asian films and abortion? From Fruit Chan’s Dumplings to Miike’s Imprint, it is a subject they are not afraid to mine for horror.) But the film doesn’t give you time to consider this. What starts out as abortion horror transforms itself multiple times, changing genre as often as the plot twists. This film is a chameleon, and anything but predictable.

Mystery gives this film its momentum. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the answers cannot live up to the questions asked, and this is where the film falters. When we are finally given an explanation, it turns out to be a denouement of Dynasty-style proportions that is likely to divide audiences. It is one of those things that lessens the impact of the film overall. There is, however, a nice little afterward, which helped wash the bad taste from my mouth, raising questions anew.

Visually, it is a stylish film. It has a cartoonish horror-noir aesthetic that is very eye pleasing. I read somewhere that the film was shot for $600,000, so Hollywood take note. It also contains a fantastic credit sequence, which I quite enjoyed, despite the fact I was choking on a peanut M&M at the time. I apologize to the poor girl who was sitting next to me.

Like most good horror films, The Forbidden Door digs below the surface in an attempt to raise larger questions. Is it an allegory about artistic integrity? A treatise on marital fidelity? A commentary on violence and the media? One thing is certain, if one day you discover a giant red door in your house, and your women tells you to never, ever open it, it is probably for your own good.

Review by Joshua Chaplinsky

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