Kuntilanak (a 2006 movie review)

I’ve been aware of “Kuntilanak” (or, in the English version, “The Chanting”), the 2006 Indonesian horror movie from the director Rizal Mantovani, since I’d read about it in a movie magazine (I think it was the Tim Paxton’s Monster! Magazine published by WK Books). And I’ve seen it a few years ago, but I couldn’t remember a lot of it.

But not impressed by the 2018 remake by the same director (and to this day I don’t understand the need to remake it), which is available on Netflix, I’ve decided to re-watch the original movie. And why not to write a review of it too, right?

Well, the original “Kuntilanak”. The polished 2018 version has lost the vibe totally, unlike this one. In it we follow the story of Samantha (lovely 17 years old Julie Estelle), who after the death of her mother (and after her stepfather has tried to molest her), leaves her home for a mysterious boarding house in Jakarta suburb.

Well, the fact it neighbours the cemetery is something, but there’s also a big tree, which locals claim is a “Kuntilanak” tree. That means, Kuntilanak lives in it. If you don’t know it – Kuntilanak is a creature from Indonesian folklore (but from what I could learn, it’s quite local, as my friend from Bekas said they don’t have that legend in his area). Although it can have a different appearances, this one is not pretty at all. Imagine old person with long white hair and with horse hoofs instead of feet, and creepy as hell. That’s this movie’s Kuntilanak.

Lita Soewardi as Bu Yanti, the house keeper, and Julie Estelle

Anyway, Samantha rents a room and she’s told by the house lady about the Kuntilanak, and about the chant with serves as the call for the creature to come out of the tree. Interestingly, it comes out from an ancient mirror in the house.

Kuntilanak creature

And just like that, we witness Samatha becoming a person to – at least for a moment – be able to invoke the Kuntilanak to punish those who threaten her.

Bits by bits we learn about the history of the house, about the mysterious satanic cult of the Mangkujiwo, and we meet the last surviving member of this family, madam Sri Sukmarahimi Mangkujiwo (or Mangkoedjiwo, as it’s sometimes spelled), who tries to convince Samantha to – basically – join her.

It’s not easy to live with the Kuntilanak in the house

Not going into details, as what’s the point of watching it then, right? Instead, I will say, unlike the aforementioned reboot/remake of 2018 (which didn’t get many favourable reviews), this one affirms the old adage “less is (sometimes) more”. Original movie doesn’t use much cast (not counting the extras), the visuals are engaging nicely setting the creepy atmosphere, the interiors and exteriors the same. It’s not gory, which, I’d say, is a plus, too many directors try to woo us with buckets of blood at the expense of good spooky story, here Rizal Mantovani does his stuff excellently.

I will commend the writers (Ve Handojo and Rizal Mantovani) for not getting entangled in explanation of Kuntilanak or Samantha’s visions, we are simply thrown in the story as it is. And sometimes it’s just like that – you don’t know what’s what and why, just go along.

So, let’s summarize: good soundtrack, visuals and good scary ghost + great looking Julie Estelle in the role of Sam and Ratu Felisha as Dinda, a commanding presence of Alice Iskak as madame Mangkujiwo (alas, her only movie role) equals a movie one can watch repeatedly, if for nothing else than to just enjoy the atmosphere.

And let’s talk about the cast. Rizal Mantovani is a talented director/editor/writer/producer, from his movies I can mention original Kuntilanak trilogy (2006-2008), slasher Air Terjun Pengantin (2009) and its sequel, Air Terjun Pengantin Phuket (2013), horror Jailangkung (2017) and, again, its sequel Jailangkung 2 (2018), the adventure drama Trinity, the Naked Traveler (2017) and its sequel Trinity Traveler (2019) a many others.

Julie Estelle

The lead role of Samantha was taken by Julie Estelle, and one could see her also in the sequels to Kuntilanak, the gorefest Macabre (2009), martial arts extravaganza The Raid 2 (2014), action thriller Headshot (2016) or quite disappointing bloody actioner The Night Comes for Us (2018). Her last movie so far is 2019 action drama Foxtrot Six.

Evan Sanders

Sam’s boyfriend, Agung, is played by Evan Sanders, who repeated his role in Kuntilanak 2 (2007) as well. He has debuted (surprisingly, also with Julie) in Dealova (2005), but also in exorcism horror flick Ruqyah: The Exorcism (2017), a religious horror movie Roh Fasik (2019), and horro movies Kelam (2019) and Arwah Tumbal Nyai: Part Tumbal (2020).

Ratu Felisha

Ratu Felisha plays Dinda, the girl Samantha befriends, she was also in the horror movie Hantu Perawan Jeruk Purut (2008), My Love is Forever, a 2008 comedy, a romance/drama Cinta Tapi Beda (2012) and horrors like Kain Kafan Perawan (2010), Nakalnya Anak Muda (2010) or Clown of the Dead (2015). Her last film so far was horror/thriller Midnight Show (2016).

The boarding house lady is played by Lita Soewardi, who appears also in the sequel, Kuntilanak 2 (2007). Her other appearance was in a action/crime drama Serigala Terakhir (2009).

And as mentioned above, Alice Iskak had only one film role, here as the madame Mangkujiwo.

So, that being said, I would really recommend Kuntilanak to all horror movie fans, and especially those who are not familiar with this part of Asian cinema. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but for me, it’s great.

Check the trailer here:

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I am the founder/owner and editor-in-chief of the Rubber Axe webzine, the underground/overground cultural publication, publishing also this website dedicated to all things Indonesian. I'm a happily married guy with 2 kids and a fantastic wife, and I'm a relentless discoverer of all things cultural and culinary. An everlasting dreamer and idealist.

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