Netflix’s Kuntilanak: What to Love, What to Hate
Indonesian Horror Movie – Kuntilanak
Is Kuntilanak a Good Movie?
In a nutshell: No.
Is Kuntilanak Worth Watching?
At times, the film was so cringe as to be unwatchable. But there are positive points. For one thing, Kuntilanak opened my eyes to a culture of horror that I’d never known about before.
Kuntilanak is a fresh perspective for westerners who are unfamiliar with the Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander brand of horror.
I’ve been on an international horror movie kick for a while now. Hollywood zombie movies are fun, but I wanted to expand my horizons. My forays into Netflix’s international horror section have been very hit-or-miss. For example, I loved Thailand’s “The Maid” but hated Australia’s “Cargo.”
Well, let’s just say that, having watched Indonesia’s “Kuntilanak,” I’m 1 for 3 in the international horror movie department.
What is the movie Kuntilanak about?
Let’s start with Anjas.
Anjas is a boy.
Anjas’ mom died, and his dad is a wreck whose “breath smells bad again” (I think this means he’s an alcoholic). One night, Anjas cries for his mom. Miraculously, she appears in front of the boy and asks, “do you want to come with me?”
When Anjas says yes, his mom, who is really not his mom at all, but an evil spirit Kuntilanak, cackles and turns him into a sticky pool of blood.
Full disclosure, that cackle was so bad that I almost turned off the movie right then and there. More on that later.
Anyway, as it turns out, the Kuntilanak is a spirit that exclusively kidnaps children. She lives inside an antique mirror, and when she kidnaps the children, she drags them back inside.
But before we get too deeply into the film, which is so bad it hurts, let’s explore the legend and lore of Kuntilanak, which is a real spirit in Indonesia and the surrounding south pacific area. Because honestly, the actual lore is much more terrifying than the Indonesian horror flick was able to portray.
The movie tried, in its own flimsy way, but the real story is so much scarier. It would seem that Kuntilanak has a lot of potential.
What is the meaning of Kuntilanak?
Kuntilanak in Indonesia, Pontianak in Malaysia: it’s the same monster. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore all share the mythology of Kuntilanak/Pontianak.
There are several interpretations with some similarities.
All the versions of Kuntilanak/Pontianak are female. She’s a spirit, often with long fingernails, long hair, sometimes in a white dress. Kuntilanak carries a dead baby in her belly that she can’t give birth to.
Thought vampires were played out? Kuntilanak are a distinct Southeast Asian variant of the mythology. And they’re terrifying.
Kuntilanak can change her form to look like a beautiful woman. So disguised, the Kuntilanak traps unsuspecting men and then kills them, drinking their blood and shredding their internal organs in the process.
How do you know if a Kuntilanak is near?
You can use several of your senses to know whether a Kuntilanak is near, including sight, sound, and smell.
Sight should be obvious: if you see it, it’s there. But what about sound?
Well, as I mentioned above, the Kuntilanak carries its stillborn around in its belly. So, according to the lore, if you hear a baby crying, that’s one possible sign.
That makes sense. But there are plenty of babies crying in the world. Is there a way to smell Kuntilanak?
There are two smells associated with Kuntilanak. The first one is rotting meat: if you smell a dead body, it might just be roadkill. But if you smell a dead body and hear a baby crying at the same time, you might be in trouble.
Finally, a Kuntilanak might be nearby if you smell a certain flower called the Plumeria.
According to Wikipedia, the Plumeria plant, which originally comes from Mesoamerica, but is now “naturalized” in Southeast Asia, is believed, in local folk tradition, to “provide shelter to ghosts and demons.” And in the Philippines and elsewhere, this flower is commonly used in graveyards, and has a strong association with spirits and death.
Back to Why Kuntilanak Sucked
OK: enough of Kuntilanak lore. Back to the film.
I have a lot of complaints, but here are two, just for you: The sound effects were bad, and the acting was tacky (the kids were actually decent at times but the adults were awful).
Bad Horror Movie SFX
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think sound effects in horror movies are more important than sound effects in other genres. Squeamish, realistic, horrifying sound effects can take a bad horror movie and turn it into an okay one.
Conversely, poorly done SFX can make a decent movie feel tacky, and they can make a bad horror movie even worse. In Kuntilanak, the SFX took a bad movie and made it even worse.
Dead mom: do you want to come with me?
Sad son: yes
Dead mom: tackiest laugh ever
Dad: (finds blood in living room; suddenly remembers he never took those acting classes)
That Kuntilanak laugh was so painful and cringe.
I actually found a Youtube video that basically captures it.
Why don’t you tell me whether this is scary:
One more thing. There was this Looney Tunes sound effect they used then the kids made a joke. It’s a funny sound effect that’s used in southeast Asia.
Look. The whole reason I’m watching international horror movies is to get a fresh perspective on the genre. So I’m obviously not going to bash the entire Indonesian style of using goofy sound effects. Actually, I think they’re kind of hilarious. But these SFX sounded out of place in Kuntilanak.
If you don’t know what I mean by southeast Asian comedy sound effects, I have an example for you.
I’m an English teacher living abroad. While I was living in Vietnam, one of my students showed me this Thai comedy. The goofy joke sound effects reminded me of it:
Kid Actors in Kuntilanak
The adult actors in Kuntilanak were all pretty bad. But the kid who plays Anjas at the beginning is actually pretty good, and in fact, they all have their moments.
I especially liked the boy who played Miko. Miko was a nerdy kid, the kind who can’t see without glasses. And he believes in the supernatural.
Actually, the kids fit horror tropes nicely. So I’m not sure I can blame the writing in that regard.
Should I watch Kuntilanak?
Kuntilanak was really bad, but I’m glad I watched it. I got to learn about the mythology and horror folklore of a part of the world I knew nothing about.
One of my favorite aspects of the internet is how it can help us understand each other, even if we live in completely different parts of the world. Kuntilanak led me down a rabbit hole that I’m grateful to have explored. I hope Indonesia comes out with a remake of Kuntilanak. I’m sure they can do better.
In case you’re interested, here’s the official 2018 Trailer for Kuntilanak:
Extra: Kuntilanak Prank Videos
My Kuntilanak research took me down one hilarious but unexpected rabbit hole: Kuntilanak prank videos. With an apparent appetite for jump scares, somebody apparently put a sheet over themselves and waited by the side of the road to scare passers by.
Is this an indonesian or Malay tradition of some kind?
Or do stupid kids all over the world just like scaring the shit out of each other?
I lean toward the latter.
Anyway, here’s a popular Kuntilanak prank video:
The Maid (2020) Netflix Thai Horror!