In Conversation with Joko Anwar

Joko AnwarINTERVIEW Naila Scargill

Currently still awaiting international distribution, The Forbidden Door was one of my personal favourites from London Film Festival 2009. From the archives, here is a brief chat with the film’s surprisingly jovial writer-director, Joko Anwar.


Was there any personal inspiration for the story?

Though based on a book, I rewrote the whole story and I put my signature: pregnant woman in distress. I’m always puzzled why would people have babies simply because everybody else is doing it. Especially in Indonesia. Too many children with no plan from the parents on how to raise them. But I say that about The Forbidden Door only if I’m pressed to answer the question if I have anything to say about the film. I just wanted to make a fun movie. My mom kept telling me to make movies like my first one, Joni’s Promise, a romcom. But after my debut, what I directed or wrote were movies about a gigolo with the biggest dick, rich kids who love to screw trannies, and an insane girl in Alice in Wonderland outfits. I told her The Forbidden Door was a fun family movie made for kids. She took my little nephews to watch it and she was furious.

The film has so many angles, I found myself wondering if you played it by ear at all. 

I’m always faithful to my script when I shoot it. But I guess it depends on what kind of movies I make. The Forbidden Door is very controlled. But I also plan to make a movie based on improvisations with no script. That would be fun, too.

The Herosase club doesn’t feature in the book. How did you come up with that concept?

I don’t know if such club really exist but I would love to be a member of it is. [laughs] I can’t recall what inspired me to put it in. When I write a script, ideas just flowing. That’s why I love writing. May be that’s how it feels when you do ballet like in Billy Elliott. If I could choose as what I could reborn with, I wanna be a ballet dancer. [laughs]

There are arguably several different endings; it’s a film very open to interpretation. Was that your intention?

The movie definitely has one ending only. And it’s really not complicated to find it once people see the hints. It’s not complicated at all. It’s just playful. I want people to come up with my intended conclusion, but it wouldn’t be as much fun if it’s too easy. One guy got exactly what I meant and he posted it on his Facebook. I begged him to delete it. He did. And we become good friends since.

Would it have been more violent if you could have got away with it? I know you ran into problems with the censorship board.

I don’t think so. I love violence in movies but I hate it when it’s just there for shock value only.

What are your thoughts on modern art? The sculptures and foetuses seemed a good way of poking fun at it…

Oh, I wasn’t making fun at all at it. But I always make fun of religions and moralists. It’s very much needed in a country like Indonesia. [laughs]

Regards Indonesian filmmaking, is there a horror movement we should keep an eye out for?

I wish I could recommend some movies from Indonesia. People here make films because they happen to be close with the producers, investors, not because they have talent. Indonesian horror movies especially have been very disappointing. Cheap, dumb, and no fun. But there are some names who have made one movie and show potentials.

What are you working on now?

My next projects are written on the neon sign at the theatre scene at the beginning of the movie and the name of the streets in The Forbidden Door. One of them is a slasher called Modus Anomali. Other titles include 24 Frames per Heartbreak a.k.a. Masturbation as the Perfect Cure for Insomnia, a comedy and Eksekutors, about five young people killing off politicians in Indonesia.

Finally, who are your influences?

I love Kubrick because he always made different films. Also Alan Parker for the same reason. I’m truly a film buff. I like all genres. That’s why it’s impossible for me to do only one genre. The Forbidden Door is actually a homage to American TV series in the 60s. Hence, the lo-fi opening titles. I also love Lynch. But I guess my favourite director today is Paul Thomas Anderson. Too many influences, I can’t recall from which I stole from. [laughs]

The Forbidden Door

WORDS Lloyd Haynes

The Forbidden DoorBased on Sekar Ayu Asmara’s 2004 novel Pintu Terlarang, this is the second feature of Indonesian writer-director Joko Anwar following 2007’s Kala. Gambir (Fachry Albar), a wealthy and successful sculptor with a beautiful wife, Talyda (Marsha Timothy), specialises in unusual statues depicting pregnant women. Dominated by his agent (Tio Pakusodewo), who pushes him to produce more of the same rather than vary the subject, and pestered by his mother (Putri Sukardi) who wants him to father a child with Talyda, Gambir’s frayed nerves are tested further by a series of unusual occurrences: he discovers a concealed door in his workshop which his wife forbids him to open, a strange man he encounters in a hospital corridor refers to Talyda as his enemy, and he is followed everywhere by messages pleading for his help. These lead him to Herosase Incorporated, a sinister organisation whose members retire to plush rooms to watch videos of brutality and horror captured on hidden cameras.

Anwar’s approach to the story owes a considerable debt to the work of David Lynch. The second half of the film, in particular, veers away from the domestic and professional drama of the first 40 minutes or so and concentrates instead on Gambir’s discovery of the titular door and his entry into Herosase, where he becomes obsessed with saving a small boy revealed in one of the videos to be the victim of terrible child abuse. The film draws towards a conclusion that is at once bleak, multi-layered and surprisingly effective. The gore is restrained save for a couple of splattery set pieces, with the emphasis placed squarely on creating a Lynchian atmosphere of incipient dread and unease. Anwar’s direction isn’t without a sense of humour, however — ‘Be a Good Wife. Get a Job’ is prominently displayed on an advertising billboard for Gambir and Talyda’s attention — and the performances are solid throughout, the film benefiting enormously from Rahmat Syaiful’s stylish cinematography.

FrightFest: Blood Moon

Blood MoonWORDS Kevan Farrow

Set in late 19th century Colorado and relying on Native American mythology for its central premise, Blood Moon represents an unusual take on the werewolf film. Director Jeremy Wooding has dabbled with western motifs before — albeit in a modern setting — in his previous film The Magnificent Eleven, but here he goes all out with a period piece set in Old West towns and featuring an ensemble of archetypal western characters.

The film’s narrative is sparked with a violent bank robbery perpetrated by the unhinged Norton Brothers, who immediately flee the scene. Guessing where they are headed, local lawman Wade decides to follow them to a small, abandoned town by the name of Pine Flats, enlisting the help of a local Native American woman named Black Deer. Shortly after setting out, Black Deer tells Wade about ‘skin-walkers’ — people banished from their tribe for practicing shape-shifting, and who are active on nights like tonight, when a blood moon hangs in the sky. Meanwhile a group of travellers passing through Pine Flats is taken captive by the outlaws, but although tensions between the brothers and their prisoners run high, outside lurks a far bigger, hairier threat, intent on killing the group one by one.

The performances make what could have been stock characters individual and very watchable. Anna Skellern is a joy to watch as sassy, streetwise widow Marie, and gonzo Canadian comic Tony Law puts in a hugely enjoyable turn as coachman Yancy. Barnsley-born Shaun Dooley seems to be steering his roles more and more towards horror, having appeared in Eden Lake, The Awakening and The Woman in Black, and brings a real conviction to his role as the moody and mysterious Calhoun. The actors are however given a hell of a starting point with a sharp script brimming with snappy dialogue — “You couldn’t find your ass in the dark if it was on fire” — which makes for a world where characters effortlessly espouse witty one-liners and cutting comebacks. This can admittedly get a little wearisome, but does frequently force a wry smile from the viewer.

The skin-walker itself is more or less your classic modern werewolf: towering, thick with hair and frighteningly well-clawed. Its attacks are swift and bloody, though wounds are rarely leered upon by the camera, the kinetic flurry of the violence favoured over gore content. The few shots we get of bodily transformation are controlled but impressive, with practical effects very much leading the way. Also, the set design is fantastic, and highly ambitious for such a modestly budgeted film. Mud roads are lined with shack-like saloons and swinging wooden signs, and interiors are lavishly decorated and cluttered with period trinkets.

But, while undeniably quite remarkable in overall aesthetic, Blood Moon seems to build to a climax which never fully materialises. The narrative closure makes perfect sense, and the film has a well-controlled pace, it just feels like this needs to be forced to a breaking point, exploding into a more frenzied final confrontation between the surviving characters and the beast. Blood Moon is however very difficult not to like, with its matching of period authenticity and monster-movie motifs.

Blood Moon screens today at 13.00