Do you see those two names in the title? Yes, The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense are considered to be two of the best horror films of all time. If you watch them at any given time of the day, you are bound to get spooked out of your mind. It’s impossible to watch these films and not stare into the darkest corners of your room, expecting to see a demon with a weird name or regular old dead people. But when you start to wonder why it works so well, it genuinely feels like something supernatural is at play because it’s really, really hard to get all the elements right and then scare people. You can have the practical effects, the lights, the costumes, the sets, and the right actors at your disposal. However, if you don’t know how to use them in the most efficient manner imaginable, all of that effort can go down the drain. And I think something like that has happened with the Malaysian horror film, Blood Flower.
Dain Said’s Blood Flower, which he has co-written with Ben Omar and Nandita Solomon, follows a family of four: Iqbal, Norman, Dina, and Yaya. They perform exorcisms, and while Norman has regular demon-repellent powers, Iqbal and Dina have the ability to see what lies beyond the veil that separates the living from the dead. Iqbal can even look into the future, especially if it has something to do with death. Before embarking on one of their missions, Iqbal witnesses Dina’s demise and tries to dissuade the family from proceeding with the job. But Norman and Dina do not listen to him, and the exercise ends with Dina’s death. Everyone is obviously grief-stricken, but Norman moves on with his side job as a masseuse. He has been working for his neighbor, Jamil, for nearly five years. Jamil is some kind of criminal who smuggles exotic plants. He actually has a greenroom in the building that is full of such beauties. So Jamil employs Norman to look after the plants, thereby allowing him to earn some money during these difficult times. Iqbal is forbidden from getting in there on his own. However, he takes the keys and brings his friends, Ah Boy, Bob, and Ali, to the greenroom. Ali and Bob end up tearing an enchanted paper stuck to a door with multiple locks on it, and all hell breaks loose in the apartment.
Writers Said, Omar, and Solomon dedicate a major chunk of Blood Flower’s running time to talking about grief and how Iqbal feels that he isn’t being allowed to mourn properly. Sometimes, his friends make a joke out of his mother’s death; his father moves on too quickly; and on top of all that, he has to stay in the one place (the apartment), which is the source of all his memories of his mother. The one person who eases this process is Ah Boy, as she has lost someone she loves, and that’s why she understands what Iqbal is going through. But since this is a horror movie, Ah Boy is obviously targeted by physical and supernatural forces, and that forces Iqbal to come out of his shell and use the powers that he feels are a curse as they led to his mother’s death. That’s not where the theme of family ends, though. It takes a particularly incestuous turn during the third act, which really comes out of left field and leaves you confused. To be honest, that’s the problem with the writing. The writers blatantly state what’s going on without adding any depth or emotion to it. All of it is fodder for shock value, but none of it is particularly shocking and, hence, forgettable.
As mentioned before, director Dain Said, cinematographer Jordan Chiam, production designer Tam Khalid, costume designer Jessie Yeow, SFX make-up designer Ella Sandera, VFX supervisor Emir Ezwan, and editor Ben Omar have put in the work to make Blood Flower a horrifying affair. There’s a lot of practical blood and gore on display, and if you know anything about how messy this aspect of filmmaking can get, you have to appreciate the effort. The creature design is amazing. It’s probably a little too reminiscent of the Swamp Thing from DC comics, but it makes sense because the demon is plant-based. The movie doesn’t hold back when it comes to killing the elderly, kids, and even fetuses. Like most horror movies, there’s a lot of stunt work as well, with actors and stunt people being thrown around or pulled through the gooiest blood and muck. It’s all there, and it’s all technically proficient. However, due to the severe lack of substance, the mostly stagnant camerawork, and the overall presentation of these “horrifying” elements, the film is not truly terrifying. That said, at the cost of sounding repetitive, the intention and attempts are commendable. They just needed to show a little more commitment instead of holding back during pivotal moments.
The performances from the whole cast of Blood Flower are good. Idan Aedan has to do most of the heavy lifting, and he instills Iqbal with a relatable sense of sadness, helplessness, and desperation. It could’ve turned into a whiny and annoying act very easily because Iqbal is constantly moping around. But his sorrow is so palpable that you want to give him a hug and get him out of this Evil Dead Rise-esque house. Bront Palarae channels every idiotic father figure that doesn’t want to listen to any kind of advice because they think they are the wisest individual in the room. When he has to redeem Norman, though, Palarae does an excellent job as he shows the dormant humanity in him. Arnie Shasha’s calm demeanor can feel very one-note. However, when she gets possessed, and you get to see the true range of the actress, you will begin to believe in the almighty. The same can be said about Eriza Allya. I won’t spoil her scenes, but she’s incredible! The rest of the cast do a great job while they are alive on screen and when they have to die spectacularly. I am sure that the movie was only limited by its budget, or else they would’ve hired more actors to increase the body count.
In conclusion, Blood Flower is a pretty okay movie. It had the potential to be something truly memorable, but due to its lack of commitment, it ended up being a pale imitation of The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense. We are getting a new Exorcist movie this year. So, it remains to be seen whether a movie set in that franchise can recreate or surpass the original’s appeal. Apart from the cinematic comparisons, I think Blood Flower uses Malaysian culture and Islam in interesting ways. The cinematic landscape is filled with Christian exorcists who use various versions of the phrase, “The power of Christ compels you.” Therefore, it is good to see a film doing something similar while staying rooted in the religion that has shaped the country. I wish there was more of that. To be honest, I wish there was more of everything. It’s a salient effort, and I’m sure Dain Said’s craft will only keep improving.