The Pontianak is a divisive creature. Sometimes a gorgeous woman, other times a blood-sucking ghoul, she is also a victim of her circumstances, as a woman who died during birthing. How she ends up as the two-faced, transforming monster, is lost forever to the annals of supernatural folklore.
But her legacy is an enduring horror figure in Southeast Asian myth and multiple creative features have paid tribute to her representation.
Singapore’s Glen Goei has created Revenge of the Pontianak – a filmic project that updates the lore visually more than anything else. The film is incredibly lush, with sequences such as a tracking shot through a long traditional hut, that delivers a plush viewing experience.
But the story, as riveting it could have been, falls short mainly from weak delivery by key characters and an uneven script. When the new bride Siti (Shenty Felizaina) begins her life at the village, she finds herself the target of ire for some locals. A murder, a festering disease and mysterious stillbirths erupt, and as the only change in recent period, the kampung needs a scapegoat.
Truth is, her husband has been less of the stellar man he is seen as, and his past catches up with him in gruesome ways, and inevitably traces back to a secret he (and a few friends) have been keeping).
The mystery-horror plays effectively at parts, with able pacing initially. But this gets interrupted frequently with visual silhouettes of the Pontianak, in a bid to remind the audience that more is at hand. While this is appreciated, it eventually becomes more disruptive.
Also weak is the lead couple, Khalid (Remy Ishak) and Siti. Felizaina is unbelievably hapless, and Ishak lacks the charisma and depth to make us empathise with his character. They lose out to brother Reza, acted by a talented Hisyam Hamid, and Nur Fazura renders a compelling spirit, with an emotional core that regains the film its footing.
But while uneven, the excellent cinematography and watchable story still makes this a decent entry into the archives of the Pontianak – no cry of injustice needed.
Revenge of the Pontianak is now available on Netflix