With “Possessed,” Malay-language cinema takes tenative, lurching steps into the world of the “Living Dead,” “Walking Dead” and “Evil Dead.”
The zombies in this attack-on-a-remote-single-sex-college-campus tale start out zombie-walking and turn into “World War Z” sprinters by the third act. They dread the coming of the light, like um, vampires. For anyone to survive, one of their number reasons, “we just have to make it til dawn!”
But even if the Malaysian undead don’t have the rules of “Zombieland” down pat, the effects are decent and the makeup is outstanding even if the plot is canned/store-brand generic and the frights not all that frightening.
The acting? It’s a zombie movie.
When one of a group of five college guys, with two female relatives/friends in tow, suggest they all “pray before we get back to” campus, we have our first hint that this was filmed in an Islamic country, and our first spoiler. No way the devout Muslim kid gets it, right?
An injured teacher (Alif Satar) is summoned back to campus during semester break and told “Allah is testing you” (in Malay with English subtitles). That’s why he’s been called back right after the car crash that killed his wife and kids. That, and there’s no such thing as a teacher’s union at this school.
A school matron (Alicia Amin) drops off food for the kids, and mentions “the Silat boys” at a local village got themselves “possessed” as casually as she might pass on a football score.
When one of the vacationing students opens a mysterious bottle, something gets out and infects him and “the Silat boys” won’t be the only ones craving human flesh.
I’ve watched several Malay films over the years in my travels “Around the World with Netflix,” and one other thing I picked up on from “Rasuk (Possesssed),” an otherwise tame affair, was how this James Lee (“Kill First”) thriller it treats the principal female characters. They have the agency and identities that make them stand out from much Malay cinema.
Elisya Sandha is Alia, introduced as another stereotypically demure maiden who came along for the pink VW Microbus ride to take her kid brother (Ikmal Amry) back to school. But when the chips are down and brother Adli has only one bar on his cell phone on the zombie-infested campus, who does he call to come rescue them?
Luckily for the lads, Alia’s VW driver/mechanic pal Kak Yam (Bella Rahim) is a tad tougher than the college boys. Her fondness for engines and butch haircut and pink bus would make her a simple stereotype in your average Western film. Is she gay? Because that’s downright tolerant for the Islamic world and Malay cinema.
But when zombies are feeding and converting those they bite and you figure light is the one thing you can fight them off with, you need a gal who knows her way around a diesel generator, no matter what pronouns are used.
Rating: TV-14, gory violence, profanity
Cast: Alif Satar, Ikmal Amri, Elisya Sandha, Abbas Mahmood, Alicia Amin, Bella Rahim, Ayie Elham, Syazwan Razak and Atiq Azman
Credits: Directed by James Lee, scripted by Adib Zaini. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34