Neatly intertwining the dreams and reality of a troubled loner who might be a serial killer, slow-burn psychothriller “Belenggu” reps a confident rise in class for genre-hopping Indonesian scripter-helmer Upi Avianto (2006’s “Reality, Love and Rock’N Roll”). Streaming pure horror and film-noir elements into a landscape that’s artsy but not pretentious, the pic delivers satisfying levels of intrigue and suspense. World-preemed at PiFan, this good-looking package should clock plenty of additional fest mileage, and has solid international prospects as an ancillary item. Domestic release details are yet to be announced.
One of the few femme filmmakers operating with any frequency in Indonesia, Avianto (credited here simply as “Upi”) kicks off the pic with an arresting dream sequence. Running scared through a forest, long-haired thirtysomething Elang (Abimana Aryasatya) is picked up by Jingga (Imelda Therinne), a sexy doll driving a vintage Mercedes Benz. Suddenly surrounded by corpses and a killer dressed in a rabbit suit, Elang wakes up to inform viewers in voiceover narration that Jingga is the “key to all the terrible things in this crazy town.”
A withdrawn figure who works in a scuzzy Jakarta bar and lives in a drab apartment block, Elang has eyes for neighbor Djena (Laudya Chintya Bella), the mother of adorable moppet Senja (Avrilla). Upping the intrigue, Djena’s suspicious husband, Guntur (Verdi Solaiman), is revealed to be a knife-thrower who dons a rabbit suit for his act in a vaudeville-like venue.
References to a dark secret affecting the community around Elang start to make sense with the reappearance of Jingga as a hooker with a Louise Brooks bob. Falling in love with Jingga and vowing revenge against the man who raped her, Elang appears to commit a grisly triple homicide, and is arrested by veteran cop Josef (Arswendi Nasution).
At this point, Avianto’s screenplay starts to steer dual courses. One reps an involving police procedural in which Elang is grilled by Josef and sidekick Arturo (Rifnu Wikana), but the narrative cleverly performs backflips as previous scenes are replayed, and characters reappear in different guises, notably Jingga as a provocative dancer.
Though Elang’s backstory is a little too sketchy for a little too long, Avianto’s imaginative storytelling and the pic’s unsettling visual and aural atmosphere should keep most auds absorbed until the triple-reverse finale.
Therinne’s eye-catching perf as the hard-boiled dame, and Nasution’s dogged detective are standouts in an impressive ensemble. Contributing significantly to the mystery is the topnotch production design, which brings a distinct retro feel to the contempo-set tale at well-judged moments.
With the rabbit-costume motif reminiscent of “Inland Empire” (and to a lesser extent “Donnie Darko”) and the creepy apartment-block ambience recalling “Blue Velvet,” the pic’s muted tones carry a certain David Lynch vibe, but never to excess. The screening copy viewed was pre-final sound mix, and contained incomplete credits; the rest of the technical package on display was fine. Title translates as “shackle.”