Jakarta. Sammaria Simanjuntak, an Indonesian filmmaker better known for romantic and family drama, has released her first horror film, "Sesat," out in cinemas on Thursday (23/08).
Produced by Rapi Films, Sesat is about a teenage girl called Amara (Laura Theux) who has to move back to her village to live with her novelist grandfather, Anwar (Arswendy Bening Swara), after her father dies in a car accident.
Most of the residents of the village are old people who perform ritual offerings and recite a mysterious mantra every day at sunset.
Hearing that a local spirit called Beremanyan can grant one's wishes, Amara performs a ritual to summon Beremanyan and asks him to let her speak to the spirit of her dead father.
Beremanyan grants Amara's wish, but at great cost as misfortunes continue to visit her family and friends.
Sammaria told reporters in a press conference last week she wanted to give the horror genre a try because as a film buff she loves all kinds of movies.
Her first film, "Ci(n)ta" ("Love/Hope") was a romance about a couple from different religions and ethnic groups.
Her second feature, "Demi Ucok" ("For Ucok's Sake"), was a comedy-drama about a girl from a Batak family who wants to become a career woman but her mother keeps pestering her to get married.
"I like movies about family. If there's a shared element in my three movies, it’s family, even when each is in a different genre. I love teen horror films, by the way, like "Carrie" and "Veronica," where the main characters are teen girls," Sammaria said.
Sesat was shot in 18 days in Jakarta and Ciawi, West Java, after one and a half months of pre-production.
Sammaria said the village and its rituals are pure fiction. To avoid offending any community or belief, Sammaria refused to set the story in a real place and invented a fictional one.
The director said making a horror film requires more technical know-hows, such as learning how to use slings and creating visual effects, which proved to be quite a challenge for her.
However, Sammaria found that good horror and comedy both need one thing: good timing – knowing the right time to deliver punch lines or jump scares.
"Many comedians have made horror movies, like "Get Out" [Jordan Peele] and "A Quiet Place" [John Krasinski]. Even Joko Anwar’s first movie was [the light satire] "Janji Joni" ["Joni's Promise"]. Comedy and horror are closer than you think because it’s all about the timing," Sammaria said.
Another milestone for the director is working with Rapi Films, the oldest surviving film production company in Indonesia.
Sammaria said she met the producers through Joko Anwar, who worked with Rapi Films to remake 1980's classic horror "Pengabdi Setan" ("Satan’s Slaves") last year. She said it was "an honor" to work with Rapi Films.
Sesat's executive producer Sunil Samtani said he was impressed by Sammaria’s talent and the quality of her previous films.
"I was confident she could make a great horror film," said Sunil, who told the Jakarta Globe he’s in talks with distributors in Malaysia to bring the film there.
Producer Gope T. Samtani said he was satisfied with Sesat and doesn't rule out another collaboration with Sammaria.
Sesat features senior actress Jajang C. Noer, the wife of the late legendary filmmaker Arifin C. Noer.
Jajang, whose filmography is dominated by dramas, said she had been dreaming to collaborate with Sammaria ever since she saw Demi Ucok.
She said she is also genuinely impressed by all the horror films coming out now.
"Horror films used to be tacky and nonsensical but now directors, scriptwriters and producers have realized that even horror films have to make sense," she said.
Sammaria said horror movies still have a room to grow.
"People already love horror films. What needs to be done is improve the content – make it entertaining but insert lessons for real life that is already full horrors," she said.
However, Sammaria said she won’t be directing anymore scary movies in the next couple of years.
"I love all genres of film, so I want to try everything. I haven’t made an action film, or a musical," she said.