Review: ‘Return to Pontianak’

A direct if tardy rip off the "Blair Witch" block, L.A.-based, Singapore-born helmer Djinn's debut feature isn't half bad as shameless imitations go. Tale of wayward travelers getting on a vengeful spirit's bad side in the Malaysian jungle is decently atmospheric, though it never quite makes the leap from tense to terrifying.

A direct if tardy rip off the “Blair Witch” block, L.A.-based, Singapore-born helmer Djinn’s debut feature isn’t half bad as shameless imitations go. Tale of wayward travelers getting on a vengeful spirit’s bad side in the Malaysian jungle is decently atmospheric, though it never quite makes the leap from tense to terrifying. Primarily English dialogue should abet access for global horror completists.

Following a recurrent premonition, Asian-American adoptee Charity (Hiep Thi Le, Oliver Stone’s erstwhile “Heaven and Earth” discovery) returns to her homeland to track down her biological mother with help of geeky trip planner Raymond (Victor Khong) and local guide Eye (Fadali). Tagging along are two whiny club kids, Brit Luc (Steve Banks) and Chinese g.f. Uzi (Eleanor Lee). Group stumbles upon an isolated hut inhabited by an old man and menacing, mute young woman. Shortly, heads begin to roll. Shaky vid lensing mimics “Blair’s” pseudo-doc style, though use of saturated colors, vertical wipes, ominous audio mix don’t hide pic’s genre contrivance. Perfs are OK, but nonstop bickering is tiresome; sum effect creepy if unmemorable. Final scroll explains “Pontianak” as Malay legend female ghost avenging rape, abuse or death in childbirth.

Return to Pontianak

Singapore

Production

A Phaedra Cinema release of a Vacant Films production. Produced by Djinn, Juan Foo, Duncan Jepson. Executive producers, Wai Kin Chan, Damon Chua, Sean Lee, Charmaine Li, Audrey Te. Directed, written by Djinn.

Crew

Camera (color, video-to-35mm), Minh Nuguyen; editor, Shariza Kamil; music/sound design, Kazz; production designer, Chan Man Loon. Reviewed at Montreal Film Festival (World Cinema), Aug. 28, 2001. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Hiep Thi Le, Fadzlinda Mohammed Shafie, Eleanor Lee, Steve Banks, Victor Khong, Fadali, Jaffar Aris, Pak Rahman.
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