White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
Tali mati (aka Pulung gantung)
Indonesia, 2021, 103’, Indonesian
Directed by: Cornelio Sunny
Script: Ike Klose, Cornelio Sunny
Photography (color): Gunnar Nimpuno
Production Company: Matta Films
Cast: Cornelio Sunny, Morgan Oey, Widika Sidmore, Djenar Maesa Ayu
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
The horror genre is the backbone of South East Asian cinema. And Indonesia one of its most prolific producers. It is therefore no surprise that such a fertile terrain is not the sole preserve of the big Jakarta production companies, but also of independent entities with more regional roots. Death Knot, in this sense, is a curious and meaningful example of an independent genre film that originates in terms of production and setting far from the capital. It is produced by the emerging company Matta Cinema, founded by Ismail Basbeth, an independent filmmaker from Yogyakarta, best known for his film Another Trip to the Moon (2015), and actor Cornelio Sunny, who makes his debut behind the camera with Death Knot.
The film opens with a mysterious night sequence, set in a misty forest, where a woman who seems possessed performs a deadly ritual, invoking liberation from the same possession or curse. The disturbing prologue turns out to be a dream and premonition shared by Hari (played by director Cornelio Sunny) and his sister Eka. Both live in Jakarta and, after experiencing this nightmare, they receive news of their mother’s death.
Accompanied by Eka’s fiancé Adi, the two brothers embark on a return trip to their distant home village, which they abandoned with their father many years ago. When they reach their destination, they are met with immediate hostility from the locals: Hari and Eka’s mother has been accused of being a dukun, a shamaness who had made an obscure pact with an ancient divinity to cast a spell on the village. Hari tries to remain rational, justifying the wave of recurrent suicides in the area with the problems of a disadvantaged economic and social situation. But the discovery of an ancient stone idol in the forest not far from his mother’s house will lead him to change his mind.
The tale of Death Knot is part of a well-established horror genre that takes its protagonists to isolated communities to lose them in the whirlpools of superstition, terror and death. Cornelio Sunny’s film, however, prefers to eschew overwhelming quantities of gore in favour of focusing on atmosphere and widespread disquiet. Working on beliefs linked to black magic and shamanic rituals, as well as possession, the root of the terror is generated within the characters; this feature also allows the genre to be played with, without resorting to a marked use of special effects. Very appropriately, however, the movements of the bodies and the expressions of the possessed faces approach the performative practices of traditional dances, themselves forms of communication or approach to the world of the divine and the spiritual. The construction of the sound system that accompanies the film’s crescendo is also impressive, with the music incorporating a rhythm that seems to echo the ticking of a clock.
Thanks also to some fine cinematic handiwork which perfectly conveys the humid and heavy atmosphere of a suffocating tropical village, and to the commitment of the actors, Death Knot compensates for its limited resources with an additional creative effort that places it well above the average standard of Indonesian genre productions. A promising and honest debut for actor Cornelio Sunny that we hope will be followed by other solid directorial efforts.
Cornelio Sunny is a film and television actor. Along with director Ismail Basbeth, whose Another Trip to the Moon (2015) he starred in, he founded the independent production company Matta Cinema in 2017. Death Knot is his feature debut.
2021 – Death Knot