Dreadout. 2019. Directed & Written by Kimo Stamboel.
Starring Caitlin Halderman, Jefri Nichol, Marsha Aruan, Ciccio Manassero, Susan Sameh, Irsyadillah, Miller Khan, Mike Lucock, Cathy Natafitria Fakandi, Hannah Al Rashid, Salvita Decorte, & Rima Melati Adams.
CJ ENM Co. / Goodhouse / Lyto Datarindo Fortuna / MM2 Entertainment
SkyMedia / Nimpuna Sinema
Rated R / 97 minutes
Adventure / Fantasy / Horror / Mystery
Father Gore wasn’t familiar with the Steam game DreadOut, from Indonesian developer Digital Happiness, before coming to the film. He got a crash course, then went back to the film adaptation— from half of the former Mo Brothers, Kimo Stamboel— and it made the experience more exciting than it was already during the first watch.
Stamboel’s film is an interesting use of DreadOut‘s gameplay, story, and imagery. The screenplay riffs off interesting themes from the plot, and the manga DLC available which goes deeper into the mythology. The ghosts Stamboel included are creepy enough to replicate adrenaline-pumping thrills from the game and haunt your nightmares.
What’s most interesting is how the film elaborates a bit on the mythology of the game by touching on the Gothic, bridged between the urban present and the rural past. The major villain here is the Red Kebaya Woman, known in the game as the First Sister. Stamboel, using pieces of what turns up in the manga DLC, reaches back from the film’s contemporary settings into the past of Indonesia, particularly the Dutch Colonial era. DreadOut‘s Gothic elements connect past and present in frightening, fun ways.
“You spend too much time on Google”
Right from one of the first scenes smartphones and social media are in the spotlight. There’s the obligatory “freakin‘ millennials” take from a store owner unimpressed with our protagonist Linda (Caitlin Halderman) using her phone on company time. Ironic because Linda’s a hard working girl who sounds like she’s taking care of a sick father at home and trying to save money for college, barely willing to switch a shift to go out for spooky fun with her friends.
The rest of her group are social media-obsessed. They epitomise large pockets of a generation, of which Father Gore is a part (born in 1985), who often put themselves in danger to “go viral.” Think of all the videos online of people free-climbing buildings to hang off the sides for a death-defying selfie, or the ‘good kid high’ a.k.a the Choking Game that existed decades ago and found new lethal life via the internet. Linda’s use of postmodern technology becomes symbolic compared to her fame-seeking pals— she uses it to dispel ghosts.
The abandoned apartment complex is a perfect setting for themes of modernity v. the past, colliding in an urban Gothic adventure. Linda’s smartphone— known in the game as the IrisPhone— becomes a way for postmodern tech to eradicate the mythical past. We can take it further. The IrisPhone, in the film, acts as a method of dispelling superstition, in that it illuminates the ephemeral nature of superstitious thought in today’s modern world. Linda’s use of the phone is a metaphor for how technology, and science, have undone many fears perpetuated by folklore and other storytelling traditions. Part of the film’s excellence is its focus on people in present day confronting contemporary culture’s complicated relationship, and ignorance, to the Gothic past.
“Those who reside
in the mystical world…”
The settings go from contemporary back to the era of Dutch state rule in Indonesia. At first, it’s the decaying apartment complex in an urban area. From there, the portal dives into the much further past. The abandoned building— a symbol of the dreadful economic present— becomes a border between the present and the tortured past’s ghosts. When the friends tread on ritual ground in the apartments they disrespect the Gothic Indonesian past, forcing them into a haunted confrontation. The game features ghosts many Westerners won’t instantly recognise, even those well-versed in J-horror and other foreign genres of horror. The best featured here is a pocong, the hideous ghost wrapped in a shroud that comes lurching out of a graveyard to try killing Linda.
Something interesting that isn’t overly elaborated on comes from Stamboel’s inclusion of the Dutch soldiers, an aspect of the game’s manga DLC. The Red Kebaya Woman— perfect enough considering last year there was a creepy staged video of a ghostly woman in a red kebaya scaring Malaysians online— exists in a nether realm, essentially a microcosm of the past connected to the present’s decaying urban landscape, as if the apartment’s only a thin veil separating the two.
Century(+) old scrolls show that the woman was involved in a violent incident with Dutch soldiers. In an era of post-colonial stories, it’s exciting that willing white audiences in the U.S. and Canada will be able to see how widespread an issue colonialism is across so many cultures. The plot cleverly includes this as a background theme, despite being brief (and potentially nebulous for those unfamiliar with the game + its DLC).
Apart from the ghosts of Dutch colonialism, Stamboel’s story employs Indonesian imagery as Gothic elements. For Western viewers unaware, the past / nether realm is set in a distinctly Sundanese environment, evident from the traditional Sundanese house where the Red Kebaya Woman lives. Inside the house, Linda stumbles across a cabinet full of puppets. These aren’t mere props, they’re wayang golek puppets. Wayang is a form of puppet theatre native to Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. These are of major significance to the Gothic past of Dutch colonialism.
Wayang golek was used to criticise the Dutch colonial regime. This aspect of the puppets place the Red Kebaya Woman and her house’s realm most likely somewhere in the early 20th century, when Wayang golek performances criticising the Dutch led to extreme censorship and many arrests (source: Andrew Noah Weintraub’s Power Plays: Wayang Golek Puppet Theater of West Java). The puppets as an image fill out backstory for the woman. Her incident with the soldiers was probably because she was resisting Dutch colonial forces and, along with her family, suffered horrible consequences, which could explain why her spirit lingers on into present day urban Indonesia.If you’re not as interested as Father Gore is in the urban Gothic plot or all it entails, DreadOut remains one hell of a video game adaptation. Its creepy adventure thrills are enough to please (some) fans of the game and the general horror-loving public. Extra awesome to see Stamboel, in his first post-Mo Brothers film, come out of the gate with a horrific gem of his own while his filmmaker brethren Timo Tjahjanto has already rocked us with two solo projects (May the Devil Take You and The Night Comes for Us).
Rounding out the alluring thematic stuff are details that ought to intrigue gamer fans of DreadOut, like the scene with the Red Kebaya Woman at the mirror with Linda, or simple images such as Linda’s camera flash, each reminiscent of scenes in the game. Intricate details go right down to the soundtrack, featuring the Panturas (whose poster turns up in the game). The score itself adds another layer of eeriness with one piece specifically that will remind genre fans of Disasterpeace’s work on It Follows.
Most video game adaptations fail because they’re unable to recreate the atmosphere of the games or can’t properly convey elements of gameplay to make the cinematic experience viable enough to be memorable compared to the original titles. The recent Assassin’s Creed, while not as abysmal as many made it out to be, was too messy to effectively tap into what made the games so special. 1993’s Super Mario Bros. went so deep into left-field that anything resembling the original concept became bad parody.
Father Gore feels DreadOut succeeds on several levels. Far better than 90% of the video game films we’ve seen from Hollywood. The way Stamboel uses Indonesian culture / ghosts to amp up urban Gothic qualities of the existing game story is a shining example of how to adapt across mediums. Certainly doesn’t hurt the film takes the viewer on a horrifically enjoyable journey from present day Indonesia into the country’s Gothic colonial past with many chills to keep viewers on their toes.