A brainteaser that's intriguing and frustrating by equal measure, "Modus Anomali" sends auds into the woods with a man whose family vacation appears to have become a nightmare.

A brainteaser that’s intriguing and frustrating by equal measure, “Modus Anomali” sends auds into the woods with a man whose family vacation appears to have become a nightmare. Indonesian helmer Joko Anwar keeps his frightened protag alone for much of the film, and finishes with more questions than answers, but this extreme arthouse entry will leave a lasting impression on many auds, even if they have little or no idea what it all means. The pic opened domestically in April and has clocked mileage-plus on the genre fest circuit since. Minor cult status and modest ancillary action beckon.

Continuing his interest in mystery and thriller themes following “Kala” (2007) and “The Forbidden Door,” Anwar’s fourth feature streams elements of backwoods horror, psychological drama and multiple-reality fantasy. Whatever viewers make of the mix, most will surely not be bored.

Setting the scene with gorgeous widescreen shots of sunlight steaming through the canopy of a lush forest, Anwar shatters the serenity with the sight of a man (Rio Dewanto) emerging from a shallow grave. Dazed and confused to the point where he has forgotten his name, he stumbles upon a house with a video camera inside and a written note to “press play.” Footage shows a woman being murdered by an assailant whose face is unseen. Turning around to discover the blood-soaked corpse has suddenly materialized, the man flees into what has now become darkness outside.

For the next hour or so, the pic generates solid suspense from the man’s attempt to discover his own identity and avoid what seems to be a madman on his trail. Following several exciting escapes, the man pieces things together sufficiently to believe he is the husband of the woman in the video (Hannah Al-Rashid).

Mysteries begin to pile up on each other once a teenage brother and sister (Aridh Tritama and Izzi Isman) appear hiding in the woods, before suddenly showing up in homevideo footage with the dead woman and their father, whose name is now familiar.

Anwar has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, including a different family occupying the same house, leaps backward and forward in time and recurring motifs, such as buried alarm clocks and electric radios popping up everywhere. What to make of where all this leads defies any easy explanation, but auds who’ve come this far may feel that the journey was worth it even if the destination is enigmatic to say the least.

Presumably for marketing purposes and perhaps in an attempt to ramp up the story’s off-center ambience, dialogue is performed entirely in English. That strategy may end up paying dividends on the sales sheet, but in artistic terms, the sound of heavily American-accented voices coming from Indonesian performers proves more distracting than intriguing. That said, local heartthrob Dewanto is convincing as the family man who might be more conflicted than even he himself realizes. Supporting cast is generally fine.

Atmospheric lensing by Gunnar Nimpuno creates an air of danger at every turn. Particularly impressive are nighttime images of shadows, trees and rock formations that give the impression of creatures stalking their prey. The score, by previous Anwar collaborators Aghi Narottama, Bembi Gusti and Ramondo Gascaro, employs industrial rumblings and discordant sounds to menacing effect. All other technical work is on the money.

Modus Anomali

Indonesia

Production

A LifeLike Pictures release of a LifeLike Pictures production. (International sales: Raven Banner Entertainment, Toronto.) Produced by Sheila Timothy. Executive producer, Luki Wanandi. Co-producer, Tia Hasibuan. Directed, written by Joko Anwar.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Gunnar Nimpuno; editor, Arifin Cu'unk; music, Aghi Narottama, Bembi Gusti, Ramondo Gascaro; art director, Wencislaus; costume designer, Isabelle Patrice; sound (Dolby Digital), Khikmawan Santosa; visual effects, Andi Novianto, Dika Herlambang, Suwandi, Widio Atmoko, Hendra Ali; line producer, Gadis Farjriani; assistant director, Tommy Dewo; casting, Jamal Musta. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (Midnight Passion), Oct. 10, 2012. (Also in SXSW, Sitges, film festivals.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Rio Dewanto, Hannah Al-Rashid, Aridh Tritama, Izzi Isman, Sadha Triyudha, Jose Gamo, Marsha Timothy, Surya Saputra. (English dialogue)

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