Hari and his sister Eka receive the tragic news of their mother’s suicide. They return to their rural childhood village home to attend her funeral and prepare arrangements for the family home, but the siblings are met with a cold shoulder as the locals have shunned their mother, fearing her as a black magic practitioner who made a pact with the Devil himself. The suicide and the village distress illicit different responses in both children – Eka wants to put everything behind her and live her life in the city of Jakarta. While Hari drowns himself of guilt over his mother’s death as he hasn’t visited his mother in years and wants to cherish the time left of his mother’s house, despite the not so pleasant childhood memories of his mother’s descent into mental instability. When a upcoming storm makes leaving the village impossible, in what the superstitious locals note as The Harvest to claim souls, Hari, Ek, and Eka’s husband, Aldi, are forced to stay the night and that’s when strange visions and odd behaviors evoke the presence malevolent entity, an ancient deity, to beleaguer Hari and Eka into submitting to its will.
Not too many Indonesian horror films see the light of day, buried beneath the massive manufacturing machine from the West, such as North America and Europe, that churns out films about every 8 seconds, the same rate in which babies are born at in the U.S, but that doesn’t mean the country known for its idyllic 17,000 islands and Buddha temples doesn’t have a repertoire of horror. In fact, obscure cult celluloids like “Lady Terminator” and “Satan Slaves,” known to those with indie horror running through their veins like crack cocaine, are the exemplar of the scarcely noticed Indo-horror collective and now that modern technology provides streaming servies far and wide from every corner of the world and advances in filmmaking make accessibility and recording film considerably cheaper and easier to complete, getting exposure becomes greater to other titles mostly hidden gems from the rest of the narrowed focused general population. Point in case, Cornelio Sunny’s “Death Knot” debuts his occult thriller that incorporated the grimly prophesized myth known as the pulung gantung that speaks of a great, fiery meteor being a harbinger of suicide and in Indonesia, the most common suicide method is by gantung aka hanging. “Death Knot,” also known as “Tali Mati,” isn’t the only film based on the myth, but what separates this film from other myth-based works is that the pulung gantung is still relevant today with highly resolute belief amongst the underprivileged and poorer neighborhoods. Sunny co-wrote the script with Ike Klose and is produced by Ismail Basbeth under Sunny’s company banner Matta Cinema in association with Kathanika Entertainment, SRN, and Umbara Brothers.
To ensure his debut directorial goes without a hitch, Sunny slides into the lead role of Hari and how Sunny and Klose write the character counterintuitively to screenplay 101 by not building him up, providing background, or instill preconceived notions through the acts. Hari’s a clean slate from start to near finish from scene one that involves him waking out of a horrible dream about his mother after briefly texting his sister. Written to have no depth in existing or having interests in anything, Hari’s hyper-focus is his mother’s legacy and commorancy, leaving his current mundane left in Jakarta to worry about his decease mother he hasn’t seen or talk to in years. Sunny is swarthy handsome, strong in subdued stubbornness, and limits his range toward his character in being the nondescript nonbeliever of occultism that innately scares the dickens out the poor village people. Hari and sister Eka (model/actress Widika Sidmore, “May the Devil Take You Too”) toss crumbs of background about growing up with an absent father and a community abhorred mother but appear unruffled by a broken home and, for the most part, shrug much of that rich backstory from their tabled history. Sidmore does a better job bottling Eka’ fear and loathing of a place that dejects her existence as villagers shun them for their devil pact bloodline and, eventually, the ooze of unwantedness seeps out of her to the point of being an emotional mess. Only when her loveable and amenable goofball husband, Adi (Morgan Oey, “The Deadly Love Poetry”), suddenly grows an obstinate backbone and refuses to leave the village, acting strange with an uncomfortably warped smile on his face as he fixates his glare deep into the forest, does Eka’s emotions pour toward a direction and hone in on a purpose until she, herself, falls into the same possessed-like predicament that befits her more than Adi but would be two perfectly ear-to-ear, Chesire cat-grinning candidates for Parker Finn’s horror-hit, “Smile.” The entity that has dominion over them isn’t so subtle, but Oey and Sidmore’s performances are, in a good way, awkwardly creepy and perfectly executed. Oey’s mimicking of a twist on the Balinese dance Hari’s mother performed in the opening scene before her demise and with what looks to be Hari’s mother silhouette impelling the dance in the shadows is “Death Knot’s” eeriest moment that lands traditionalism and supernaturalism into a single scene of shadows and visitants.
“Death Knot” is a slow burn, dread building, culture integrating, ambitious debut feature from actor-turned-director Cornelio Sunny. Performance driven with little-to-no special effects, the surrounding morose atmospherics of “Death Knot” relies on the cast and it’s portentous, jump scare score to deliver a palpable fear without a perceptible villain, keeping very much in tune with one of Indonesia’s notorious folklores. The limited budget constrains Sunny to character exposition and pursuance of self-selling the concept of an entity inhabiting friends and family with only their God-given talents and appearances to construct ominous opposition. Descriptively, the notion sounds monotonous in tone, substandard in achieving a certain level of jitters, and gridlocked from a story perspective, but Sunny and his counterparts are able to feed the idle monster with energetic enthusiasm that turns the notion on its head with menacing and foreboding results, amplifying to one of the story’s other themes of paralyzing guilt that affects Hari from moving forward in life because of that equivocal estrangement between him and his mother. However, one of the biggest problems to come out of “Death Knot” is the ambiguously fated ending for Hari, surrounded by a 50-yard radio of melee weapon-holding villagers like he’s been suddenly dropped in the middle of the Resident Evil 4 video game. Perhaps not making the connection more evident, Sunny and Klose do faintly paint the picture of social class tensions with big city Hari, Eka, and Adi being met with aversion by the lower-class, rural village who have a strong belief system in the supernatural but is not a major clash or even an apprised motif represented only by a few aloof moments. I was also hoping to see the myth’s harbinger of death with a great fireball in the sky to signify the beginning of The Harvest, aka hangings to usurp soul energies to feed the devilish deity, but that didn’t happen considering the budget for limited-to-no visual effects.
“Death Knot” has this somber quality in its characters who are dropped into an unwelcoming village on a dark and stormy night scenario that puts a very Plutonian stamp on what kind Hell-crafted mark an ancient, malevolent God has left on forgotten land. Well Go USA Entertainment picks up and distributes the home video rights to Cornelio Sunny’s debut hair-raising feature with a Blu-ray release. Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the cinematography by Gunna Nimpuno captures the elemental beauty of rural Indonesia with rolling fields as far as the eye can see and the integrated towns built into hills becomes one seamless graft of spartan man living humbling on nature. Night shot continuity is Nimpuno’s weakest link in the arrangements of shots between the house at night and the forest at night. Outside the house is a natural pitch black with little lighting other than a green gel or another warm color in the house exterior but the forest scenes, every single one, are glazed with blue tint during day shooting to fabricate night sequences. The reproduction compression on this AVE encoded BD25 is rather good with little-to-no signs of banding, artefacts, or other lossy content issues. The Indonesian DTS-HD 5.0 Master Audio is digitally a solid track with a lamentably fine, back of the mind, sound design harmonized with an intense summitting score. There are also no issues with the digital tracks, any audio compression, and each track plays its role in sundered channels, creating an omnidirectional biodome that immerses you into the Sunny’s intimate family curse. English subtitles are option and are well-synched with grammatical accuracy. Aside from the opening previews of other Well Go USA titles, there are no other bonus features with this release. The physical features include the traditional Blu-ray latching snapper with a creepy enough illustrated cover art of a small smiling evil figure standing and surrounded by an engulfing forest. Inside is a leaf insert advertising other new Well Go USA distributed films. The film is not rated with a region A coded playback and has a runtime of 101-minutes. Cornelio Sunny first efforts don’t go unnoticed as “Death Knot” hooks with a mystery that slowly unravels the ugly truth of material myth and renders a stagnant guilt out of a powerfully, paralyzing combination of estrangement and loss.