Time-proven people-in-peril horror formulas cross borders and cultures. That’s true in “Roh,” a somewhat effective tale of terror set in the forests of Malaysia.
That’s where a mother (Farah Ahmad), her tween daughter (Mhia Farhana) and younger son (Harith Haziq) find themselves menaced by “omens,” sinister forces in play in their corner of the middle of nowhere.
We’ve seen a feral child (Putri Qaseh) digging up a fresh grave in the dark of night, a Burning Bush her only light.
Mother Mak has no hope of her husband returning, and has only her children to rely on out there. But when they see a slain deer hanging from a tree, they have an idea something’s up. There’s an evil “old people talk about” around here, a creature that targets deer and small children.
Sounds like she’s making that up to keep them safe. But she warns them to beware of anything they see in the forest.
And we’ve already seen this solitary hunter (Namron) stalking about, searching for something. Now would be the perfect time for this mute, filthy wild child to pay them a visit. They feed her and try to figure out her story.
It’s only after she’s killed and eaten a chicken, raw, that she blurts out an answer.
“When the moon is full, all of you will die,” she says (in Malay with English subtitles).
Perhaps the woman (June Lolong) from the village across the river can help. Because once you’ve seen an unwashed urchin devour a bloody chicken and heard her deliver an ominous warning before slitting her own throat, you’re pretty sure this isn’t something you can handle alone.
Writer-director Emir Ezwan, working from a story he and one of his stars (and a producer) conjured up, renders this tale in slow, deliberate strokes.
It’s more chilling than frightening, and just cryptic enough about what’s really happened and what is really happening to keep the viewer engaged.
And even if his film isn’t a non-stop downward spiral into terror, the shocks are genuine and the violence grisly, personal and demonic.
Rating: Unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Farah Ahmad, Mhia Farhana, Harith Haziq, June Lojong, Putri Qaseh and Namron.
Credits:Scripted and directed by Emir Ezwan. A Film Movement+ release.
Running time: 1:23