Bringing on the bizarre this week is psychological horror Shackled, a tantalising thriller from female director Upi. A David Lynch style murder mystery from Indonesia, Shackled was chosen to open the Terracotta Festival’s Horror All-Nighter last June.
There's a murderer on the loose and two detectives are on his trail, but they'll have to get in line, because the number one suspect is also being stalked by a creepy old religious nut, a whispering nun with a really bad habit, an ex-prostitute with murder in mind, the girl next door and her domineering husband, and what can best be described as a giant Duracell bunny with an axe to grind.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that things aren't what they seem in this dark and delirious world. Elang (Abimana Aryasatya) is haunted by images of bizarre murders involving a killer in a rabbit costume. His efforts to solve the mystery and save the lives of those in danger have trapped him in a downward spiral, where he himself is the chief suspect in a murder case.
Elang believes that the mysterious rabbit figure is the key to solving the mystery. Unfortunately, no one believes him. It's the kind of film where everybody is a suspect, not least the creepy locals, who all act as though they've seen one too many episodes of Scooby Doo. In an attempt to prove his innocence, Elang is forced to unveil a long-buried secret. That's if the bunny doesn't get him first.
The opening act is fragmented and fascinating, much like the striking score that accompanies the twisted visuals. Fact and fiction collide in the darkness as Elang slips further down the gaping rabbit hole. Dreams and reality merge effortlessly in a fabulous first act that sees our despairing protagonist haunted by visions of chaos and bloodshed.
It's all very atmospheric, even if Aryasatya's performance is a little uneven at times. Restraint clearly isn't his strong suit, and Elang's contorted journey loses its appeal the longer it goes on. How many times do we need to see him shaking his head in disbelief, tortured by despairing visions of murder? He's a little unhinged. We get it already.
Shackled is at its best in the first hour, and it's not until two detectives arrive on the scene that the movie unravels. They take it in turns to interview the local weirdos and the mystery surrounding Elang's past is unveiled. Anyone familiar with the horror genre will know what to expect, as the mystery of the opening hour is surrendered in favour of predictable plot twists and flagging interest.
There are some neat touches littered throughout but they rarely take hold, and somewhat despairingly, Shackled is held captive by the very chains that set it free. Ultimately, Upi's success in the first act is also her undoing, because nothing that follows captivates in quite the same manner. The characters aren't appealing enough to keep an audience engaged, and as a result, the sombre exterior collapses like a house of cards.
For all its visual splendour, Shackled remains an underwhelming viewing experience. There is much to recommend in the opening hour, but clearly the demented rabbit hasn't learnt much from its fabled friends. Unsettling and compelling out of the blocks, starting out strong can be your undoing if you haven't got the legs to go the distance. If Upi can master the art of storytelling as she has the art of filmmaking, in time, she'll surely win the race. AW