‘Trinil’ Netflix Review: Come For The Horror, Stay For The Sleepy Vibes Of A Tea Plantation


The Italian film industry made its name in the horror genre by creating a niche called “giallo.” Despite depending on tentpole blockbusters and superhero flicks to keep the movie industry alive, Hollywood’s most dependable player has been horror. South Korean horror films are synonymous with over-the-top gore and succinct history lessons (most of which have to do with the aftereffects of Japanese imperialism). Japanese horror films (also known as J-horror) have revolved around malevolent spirits in cityscapes. In addition to all that, Indonesian horror is beginning to build its own brand of folk horror, thanks to directors like Joko Anwar and Timo Tjahjanto with films like Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore, and May the Devil Take You. Is Trinil a step in the right direction? Let’s find out.

Hanung Bramantyo’s Trinil: Kemablikan Tubuhku, which he has co-written with Haqi Achmad, is set in the Saunder tea plantation in the hills of Indonesia. The movie opens with the mysterious murders of two workers by the disembodied head of a woman and then jumps forward in time by three months to focus on the return of its owner, Rara, and her husband, Sutan. While the employees want Rara to know about what’s going on, Joko (Rara’s right-hand man) wants everything to be kept under wraps. But the whole situation begins to unravel as Rara starts convulsing in her sleep every night. Things get a little out of hand when Sutan and Joko find Rara levitating over her bed. Rara doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but Sutan reunites with his school friend, Yusof, who is now an exorcist of sorts, to help him out with this whole situation.

Bramantyo and Achmad’s script for Trinil: Kembalikan Tubuhku, has all the right elements. It has property disputes, murders, betrayal, lies, the Dutch aspects of Indonesia’s history, and, of course, a malevolent spirit looking to reunite with its body. I have listened to the inner workings of tea estates and their owners all my life. So, it was interesting to see that aspect of the industry from another perspective. However, the lack of depth is what hurts the movie the most. And I don’t think the campy, light-hearted tone is an excuse for its lack of exploration of some of its potent themes and topics. Horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead, the Scream movies, the Evil Dead movies, Manichithrathazhu, and Ready or Not have managed to deliver such succinct commentaries on the times we are living in while keeping things fun and humorous. Bramantyo and Achmad never really achieve that balance, thereby giving the whole film a lackluster appearance.

I think a lot of effort and care has been put into establishing the look and feel of Trinil: Kembalikan Tubuhku. The period-accurate cars, clothes, make-up, and sets are pretty good. The CGI, VFX, and practical effects for the ghostly apparitions are decent. The mixture of sleepy and eerie atmosphere of tea plantations is captured quite accurately. But the faultlines begin to appear due to the atrocious pacing. There’s an effort to create some form of tension, but the lack of stakes deflates it. I am confused about the jump scares. Sometimes, they feel sincere, and other times, it seems like Bramantyo is trying to elicit laughter. However, the execution is so shaky that it ends up being neither scary nor funny. The score is uninspired. The kills are repetitive and uninventive. Hence, after a point, the movie starts to work like a hypnotic screensaver that’s trying to put you to sleep. If that was the actual aim of the film, well, I can confirm that it was successful.

The cast of Trinil: Kembalikan Tubuhku is clearly talented, but they are limited by the writing and the direction. Carmela van der Kruk has such an amazing screen presence. But she is made to complain and whine throughout the first half of the film. When she has to dig deep into her character’s roots, the exercise is very surface-level. Rangga Nattra plays the most complex character in the film, and it’s such a restrained performance that Sutan’s pathetic nature becomes negligible. Fattah Amin is supposed to be like Mohan Lal in Manichithrathazhu, but he never gets to swing for the fences. And he kind of fades into the background without creating a lot of impact. Wulan Guritno is the centerpiece of the film. She manages to draw the malicious and manipulative outline of her character during her limited screen time. However, she is robbed of the opportunity to make Madam Ayu an iconic horror movie monster. The supporting cast includes Willem Bevers, Goetheng Iku Ahkin, Elly D. Luthan, Wn. Naufal, Enzo Rici, and more, and all of them are good. A better script and some innovative direction would’ve made them memorable.

Despite my criticisms about Trinil: Kembalikan Tubuhku, I think you should definitely watch it. I liked what it was going for; I just didn’t like where it actually ended up going. It’s possible that you’ll end up liking the story as well as the execution. More importantly, though, if you aren’t familiar with Indonesian horror films, feel free to use this as your gateway into this section of the film industry. It has its own unique flavor, and I hope that, much like its action movies (The Raid duology, The Night Comes for Us, the Skyline movies, Headshot, Merantau, Gundala, Buffalo Boys, etc.), it manages to influence filmmakers all over the world. If you are looking for a double feature recommendation, feel free to pair up Trinil with Qorin (it’s available on Netflix too) since it also has an idyllic setting with something evil festering at its core. I am aware of the fact that Bramantyo is quite a controversial filmmaker, and his portrayal of Islam has always been a topic of discussion. I’m not an expert on that matter, but I’m interested in learning what his fans and critics from Indonesia think about it. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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