Death Whisper, If Indonesia has Jelangkung (2001) which is considered to be one of the most instrumental films in reviving the country’s cinema from suspended animation, then South Korea has Whispering Corridors (1998) which celebrates the birth of freedom in expression after decades of the government imposing strict censorship towards the creative industry.
In this first installment of the five film series – all of which are united by place and theme – the filmmaker does not hesitate to criticize, Death Whisper, especially regarding the education system in South Korea which is considered too stressful to students. His courage to voice public unrest is what makes Whispering Corridors a warm welcome from the public, even though it is classified as pathetic in quality.
After ending the franchise through A Blood Pledge (2009), or at least until recently, the “whisper corridor” decided to venture into the international market. The first destination they visited was Indonesia, where Pichouse Films showed an interest in adapting it to the Indonesian version using the title Sunyi. Death Whisper, Like the titles incorporated in the franchise, Sunyi is reluctant to adopt a storyline that has continuity with the original volume. The only common thread it carries is a big theme that talks about depravity in educational institutions.
The depravity referred to by Sunyi relates to the tradition of seniority which leads to bullying. By Awi Suryadi (Danur trilogy, Badoet) as the director, we were brought to a well-known private school called SMA Abdi Bangsa which still applies ospek with the main Death Whisper, objective of showing superiority as well as taking revenge. Yes, the 11th graders who call themselves “humans” (for the record, 12th grade are called “kings” then the alumni are called “gods) want to show the new students who are called” slaves “that this school upholds seniority. Slaves must obey human orders, including being prohibited from using some school facilities,
and they are also forbidden to complain to teachers and parents for all bullying they receive unless they are willing to be excluded from the circle of alumni, most of whom are important people. Having received a threat like this, Alex (Angga Yunanda) clearly cannot do anything except accept the reality.
After all, he can still pour out his frustrations in a sketchbook and spend time with another new student, Maggie (Amanda Rawles), Death Whisper, who can always raise his mood. When Alex thought things couldn’t be worse, his three seniors; Andre (Arya Vasco), Erika (Naomi Paulinda), and Fahri (Teuku Rizki), suddenly force him to perform a séance ritual. A fad that then brings great disaster to these teenage bullies.
For me who has been disappointed by horror films in this country for months until I am in the phase of “I think I’ll just stop watching this genre”, Sunyi’s presence is clearly a joy. This film is able to restore confidence in the presentation of memedi made by Indonesian filmmakers which have almost died out. In fact, to be honest, I don’t really expect much from Sunyi because of three factors: 1) I don’t like Whispering Corridors and the series that follow it, 2) Awi Suryadi’s direction in Danur’s dwilogi feels less clicky for me, and 3) releases Pichouse Films (or MD Pictures) generally relies on trite scare tricks that tend to be noisy.
So, what is there to expect? The skepticism I carried when I stepped into the cinema turned out to be a surprise. Silent turns out to be able to present an interesting spooky spectacle without having to rely on haphazard jump scares. There is no supernatural being who appears at will every few minutes to the point where the main player’s performance is taken away, nor is there any accompanying music that strikes the ears so that it requires the treatment of an ENT doctor.
The speech style of this film is somewhat reminiscent of horror films from South Korea and Japan which tend to be slow and rely more on atmospheric buildings to create horror. Yes, the source of the viewers’ discomfort in Silent is not from the surprises that are bombarded all the time, but from the dimly lit school hallways, the large, empty gym, to the dark swimming pool. Just imagine yourself in a quiet school alone, doesn’t that feel scary?
I myself experienced repeated anxiety while watching Silent. The ghost appearance scene is less stomping – even the make-up is a bit ridiculous – but this self is covered with a sense of discomfort due to its ambience to the point that it also once complained, “oh, lest the devil has appeared. Is not it? Is not it?.” From a series of spooky moments that adorn the film, a personal favorite is when Erika paces the lockers and then to the pool at night. The dynamic cinematography of Adrian Sugiono and the accompaniment of creepy music composed by Ricky Lionardi allow the scenes that have actually appeared in this trailer to still have the chilliness it needs. It could be that you will no longer dare to swim alone.
Hiii… Besides production value which has brilliant quality and Awi’s direction which has improved quite well in terms of concocting terror, another factor that then puts Sunyi above the average local horror film is its weighty storytelling. Instead of being limited to being a series of endless terror without meaning, Sunyi also tries to tell stories and convey messages well. There is criticism of the perpetuation of bullying in educational institutions under the guise of ospect or tradition that uses the pretext “to strengthen mentally”, there is an adequate background for core characters so that we can understand the motivation for their actions, and there is also an attempt to provide a warm moment a heart that quite managed to make my eyes glaze over.
Even though in the end Sunyi still left several notes such as the line-up of actors who gave too soap opera-ish performances (luckily Angga Yunanda and Amanda Rawles did not disappoint at all), their move to present a different spooky spectacle still deserves to be appreciated. What’s more, the cultivation is in a qualified class. When else can you try to say proudly “Silence is better than the original material, namely Whispering Corridors, which is actually a South Korean film, you know …” after watching an Indonesian horror film? Rarely, right?