When it comes to South East Asian movies, admittedly only Thailand’s comes to mind. Because they are already well known for their rom-com and horror. As for Malaysian movies, well I’ve only watched Talentime and that’s because it’s mandatory from one of my college class. What I saw was intriguing, but not enough to made me watch other Malaysian movies. Until I accidentally watched the exorcism scene of Munafik on YouTube with my workmates.
Adam (Syamsul Yusof) is an Ustadz who often cured people from ailing and possession using the power of prayers and faith. Seriously, it’s a thing in Islam called “ruqyah” and you can look it up if you’re interested. He quitted, though, after a car accident that took away his wife left his faith shaken.
But when Maria (Nabila Huda), a daughter of a respected religious figure in the village was possessed and no other Ustadz or Imam is around, Adam had no choice but to try and help her…
A horror movie that’s heavily related to religion is not new, but watching one that heavily relates to my religion is a relatively new experience for me. And being a
half-heathen casual Moslem devotee (HA) is a bit of a two edged swords. It does helped a lot in understanding the contexts and I’m familiar with the references. However, I also set myself up to be uncomfortable with it because a story about exorcising demon and the rediscovery of faith will inevitably contain two things I’m averse to: the preaching about how faith is all you need and that goodness will always trumps evil. ALWAYS.
And yet Munafik managed to be far more than that. Rather than presenting a story about how religion and God should be your savior, it questions the blind faith in such belief. I fell, honestly, with how Syamsul Yusof (who not only write and direct but also edited and starred in this movie) uses his character Adam to voice such doubts. Not only through his dialogues, but also his actions and the way he deals with his past and the horror that has come to his life. But the smartest thing about this movie is how apt the title is. Munafik means those who acts differently from what he believes in – a hypocrite. And this movie shows just how, in one way or another, everyone is a hypocrite. Especially in relation to your belief.
Maybe that’s why I’m so enamored by Munafik. Because Syamsul Yusof didn’t hesitate in showing people who, despite saying they believing in a certain faith, actually does thing that contradict the rules of their own religion. Or the opposite. How someone could doubt his faith and questions his religion, but still puts on religion-related attribute and pray or even preach about said religion to other people. Could be because he doesn’t know anything else to turn on to, or perhaps because everyone around him tell him that’s what he should do. Because that’s the right thing, the only right option. That part of the movie resonates the most to me.
At its heart, though, Munafik still is a horror story. A very good one at that. It didn’t relied on jump scares and apparitions but when it did, it did so with style at appropriate times. It also made full use of the gloomy and grim atmosphere, even if at times you kind of wonder how in the hell does these people survive at such dimly lit environment. And don’t let the beginning fools you. It may started out as overused horror flick tropes with obvious plot development. But Syamsul Yusof took all of those basic ingredients and cook up a tasty cuisine that actually mess with your mind real good. Not in the “is it real life or is it just fantasy” way, but more along the line of “the fuck just happened was that real WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THE MEANING OF THIS???” Syamsul Yusof does a neat job in building up his layered story, dropping hints here and there, driving it towards a culminating finale with twists that doesn’t let up even until the very end. And what an ending, too. After all, Munafik’s lack of ambition to preach about your way home to God is one of the reasons I like this movie.
But that doesn’t mean it’s without fault. Munafik suffered from the occasional awkward acting. Ruzlan Abdullah was mostly annoying or emotionless as Amir, and so was Dato’ Rahim Razali as Adam’s father. Nabila Huda was convincing as Maria and her possessed act was downright scary, but she mostly acted using the same tone of emotion. Surprisingly, Sabrina Ali as Zeti was the one who kind of stole the spotlight and built up an intriguing – but sadly underused – character. Syamsul Yusof, however, was simply praise worthy as Adam. His emotional range, his frustration, his doubt, they were all so palpable. He was relatable but easy to dislike, lost and ultimately humane. All of which are conveyed strongly thanks to Syamsul Yusof’s acting.
In the midst of increasingly saturated horror market, Munafik offered something different: a horror movie that’s not only profound but also culturally familiar and very easy to relate to. It was scary, thrilling, and suspenseful. The story was tight with a worthy pay off. But most importantly, it’s more than just a ghost story. It’s a story about one’s journey to find for answers and made peace with a loss, a journey that might never end.
Director: Syamsul Yusof. Writer: Syamsul Yusof. Released on: 5 October 2016 (Indonesia). Casts: Syamsul Yusof, Nabila Huda, Sabrina Ali, Ruzlan Abdullah.