SXSW 2012 Movie Review: 'Modus Anomali'


You're going to need some patience for this particular horror flick. And I mean it.

Any film review that starts out with that sentence is probably going to be a true thrashing, but that's not the case here. While it's true that the low-low-budget Indonesian export known as Modus Anomali is the textbook definition of a "slow burn" horror flick, and while it's also true that I think the film could be improved by trimming a bit of the arid moments scattered across the (admittedly brief) running time, there's simply more here to admire than there is to nitpick. But, again, fair warning: Modus Anomali offers some dark, twisted moments -- but it does ask that you pay attention, sit quietly, and exhibit a little patience.

Sort of a cross between Nacho Vigolando's Timecrimes, Michael Haneke's Funny Games, a stark, dark murder mystery, and an incongruously brutal episode of The Twilight Zone, Modus Anomali (the title means "Weird Situation," or something like it) starts out with a few nasty shocks -- a man wakes up buried, digs himself out, and uncovers evidence of a stunningly brutal murder -- before it slows down to a virtual crawl. Our poor protagonist doesn't know where he is, who he is, or why he's been buried in the forest, but all sorts of grisly little clues start to pop up. Then we're back in the forest for a good, long while -- before Act III kicks in with some twists and turns that you not only won't see coming; you may not even "get" what happened until you discuss it with other people.

In essence Modus Anomali feels like a fantastic 60-minute film that was stretched out and bulked up here and there, just to make it "feature-length," and if that's an indie import's biggest problem, that's one I'm generally willing to forgive. Given how movie-crazy Indonesia is these days (their The Raid is something special indeed), Modus Anomali could have been just another slasher homage or J-horror rip-off. Kudos to writer/director Joko Anwar for coming up with something a lot more original than just an Indonesian version of Friday the 13th or Dawn of the Dead

Lead actor Rio Dewanto deserves a lot of credit as well. Even through its most uneventful moments, the film is supported by a strong lead performance. This poor guy goes from clueless to terrified to confused, back to terrified, falls down a whole lot, runs through the forest like a lunatic, and (once we start to get some story clues) he displays another batch of versatility. I know very little about Indonesian actors, but this guy sure seems like a good one. Mr. Anwar, to his credit and despite my earlier complaints, does an impressive job of keeping an attentive viewer guessing, and an even better job of presenting a merciless forest setting that seems to go on forever and is frequently governed by nightmare logic. Make no mistake: for all its mysteries, weirdness, and moments of maddening silence, Modus Anomali is a pretty hardcore horror flick. To explain how would be to venture into spoiler territory, which I won't do, but this movie packs a few ferocious moments of unexpectedly vicious horror -- which probably wouldn't have worked as well if the first two acts didn't take its own sweet time in getting to the big finish. 

Recommended only for serious horror aficionados who actively crave a freaky import that moves a bit slowly, on purpose, Modus Anomali goes to a dark, weird, disturbing place -- if you're willing to wait for it.