HBO Asia’s “Folklore” is a six-episode, hour-long series that takes place across six Asian countries – Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Each episode is based on a country’s deeply-rooted myths and folklore, featuring supernatural beings and occult beliefs. The respective episodes are helmed by a director from that country and filmed locally in the country’s primary language. In the particular segment, Joko Anwar deals with the myth of Wewe Gombel, a female supernatural being or ghost in Javanese mythology, which kidnaps children.
FOLKLORE is available to US subscribers on HBO NOW®, HBO GO®, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms
Murni, a single mother and her only son, Jodi struggle to make ends meet, since the lack of money they experience, and the mother’s fear that the father will kidnap her son, has led them to live a secluded life, with the child not attending school or being allowed to play outside and the mother having almost no source of income. After being kicked out by the rundown house they inhabit, they decide to spend the night in a luxurious house that the mother was supposed to clean. However, during the night, she discovers a number of abandoned children hidden in the attic, and terrified, calls the police. The children are returned to their families, although the reason for them being there is never revealed. Eventually, she discovers that Wewe Gombel was the one in charge of the kidnappings, while the spirit is out to get revenge.
Joko Anwar proved that he can handle horror brilliantly with “Satan’s Slaves“, and the fact is also obvious in this case. This time, he combines a number of different “scare tactics” in order to present a movie that lingers between the psychological thriller and the genuine horror. In that fashion, the jump scares are here (benefitting the most from the excellent work done in the sound department by Khikmawan Santosa), as is the disorienting sense that something is wrong with the mother’s mentality, with the latter element presented in subtle fashion, through some brief episodes here and there. And while I felt that the twist is obvious, the finale turns even that around, resulting in a highly surprising, as much as rewarding ending, which actually presents a mother’s love as the ultimate force, and adds a quite impactful dramatic essence to the film, which also derives from the “monster”.
Anwar does a great job of unfolding the narrative, making the most out of the about 50 minutes of the episode, retaining the interest from beginning to end, particularly through the aforementioned sense of disorientation, which is implemented nicely by Arifin Cuunk’s editing. Ical Tanjung’s cinematography is also quite good, making the most out of the shadows and the darkness, and presenting the supernatural elements in impressive fashion.
Marissa Anita is quite convincing as Murni, in a role that has her exhibit both her love and her frustration, as much as a need for payback that occasionally reaches the borders of pettiness. The scenes where she gets fed up are the highlights of her performance. Muzakki Ramdhan as Jodi is also good, in a role that lingers between sadness and frustration. Their chemistry is one of the best aspects of the film, as exemplified in a number of dialogues, particularly in the one in the table and the one with the sheets.
“A Mother’s Love” is a very entertaining film that will satisfy all fans of the genre and an indication that HBO Asia has started to move towards a “proper” direction, regarding their original content.