As far as Asian horror cinema goes, Indonesia has not received the international acclaim of Japan or Korea -- or even Thailand or Hong Kong, for that matter -- but recent films like Joko Anwar's Ritual, the Mo Brothers' Macabre and Timo Tjahjanto's segments in the anthologies ABCs of Death and V/H/S/2 have enjoyed widespread exposure in the US, helping to establish a reputation for Indonesian horror. Hoping to further solidify the island nation's position in the genre spotlight is 308, an adaptation of a local legend that was the highest-grossing Indonesian horror movie of 2013.
Saddled with the financial burden of caring for her young sister Aira, recent college graduate Naya (Shandy Aulia) feels fortunate when an old schoolmate named Sena (Denny Sumargo) offers her a job as a housekeeping supervisor at the five-star coastal hotel he manages. She arrives with Aira in tow as the hotel is set to close down for four days to spray for a local outbreak of malaria and dengue fever. The two sisters settle into a room as Naya begins to learn the ropes from the skeleton crew that's staying on during the closure.
One of the first things she's taught is that she can never enter the mysterious room 308. While the employees are evasive about the reason why, she comes to find out that the room is thought to be a portal between our world and that of Nyi Roro Kidul, a spirit known as "the Queen of the South Sea" who is worshipped like a goddess. According to the centuries-old legend, she was a cursed princess whose banishment drove her into the South Sea, and to this day, locals bring her offerings of incense and flowers, fearing if they don't, she will demand a human sacrifice. Some say if you wear green (her favorite color) along the coast, a wave will drag you into the ocean forever.
As supernatural events begin to mount around the hotel, Naya discovers that the stories are more than mere legend. The ghostly entity begins striking out against her and her coworkers, and they must rally together to figure out what they've done to upset her before it costs them all their lives.
The End Result
Whereas recent high-profile Indonesian horror fare Macabre and Ritual are gory, American-styled slasher fare, 308 is a supernatural ghost story in the mold that has defined Asian fright flicks since their worldwide explosion nearly two decades ago in films like Ringu, Ju-on: The Grudge, One Missed Call and Shutter. It's got the long-haired female ghost archetype that fans of Asian horror are all to familiar with, although 308's spirit is attractive with a serene demeanor as she literally floats on air -- in contrast to the ghastly, croaking, contorted monstrosities of Ringu, Ju-on and the like.
The difference in appearance can be attributed to the fact that Nyi Roro Kidul is an actual revered deity within Javanese mythology. In fact, the hotel in the film is based on the real-life Samudra Hotel (which was the original title of the film), whose room 308 holds a shrine the the spirit. The attractive ghost approach is an intriguing change of pace that fits with the lush look of the movie, but it doesn't elevate the scare factor as much as a more traditionally creepy entity -- although in several scenes, director Jose Poernomo makes the wise decision to keep her in a haze, as if we're seeing her out of the corner of our eyes.
It's the beautiful look of 308 that's its main asset. Poernomo cut his teeth working on music videos, and it shows in his grand, colorful shots of the glitzy locale, its shiny, bright exterior masking a darkness within. At times the special effects accentuate the professional look of the film, but at other times, they undermine it; in a couple of scenes featuring floating objects, you can practically see the strings holding them aloft.
308 doesn't currently have a US distributor, and word is the producers might be interested in an American remake -- something that could potentially fix the film's shortcomings. Besides the uneven special effects, the movie is way too long -- two hours being an eternity for genre fare -- the characters are a bit stiff, the conversations are a bit melodramatic and the musical cues are overblown. Still, the compelling, twisty storyline and eerie abandoned hotel setting provide the bones for an enjoyable haunted house (or hotel) pic.
- Acting: C (A bit stiff and melodramatic.)
- Direction: C+ (Attractively shot, but scares could be better framed.)
- Script: C (Long with clunky dialogue, but features an intriguing ghostly mystery.)
- Gore/Effects: C (Uneven special effects.)
- Overall: C (An atmospheric but flawed ghost story.)
308 is directed by Jose Poernomo and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: TBD.