Indonesian writer/director Upi’s first foray into psychological horror sticks to a well-trodden path, but Shackled has enough twists and turns in the second half to keep viewers interested. And while budget restrictions and lack of finesse prevent it from being especially gripping or frightening, Upi’s grubby visuals and claustrophobic camerawork lift what could have been a very mediocre story.
The influences are obvious from the first scene: a woozy, Lynchian dream sequence where a bedraggled man, Elang (Aryasatya), is picked up from the roadside by someone in a bunny costume with a car-load of bloodied corpses. It’s one of many gory delusions suffered by Elang, a twitchy outsider who everyone thinks might be the town’s infamous serial killer. The riff on Donnie Darko is clear, except this rabbit looks like it’s come from a cheap kid’s party where only the very young would be remotely afraid.
Elang soon falls in with an abused prostitute, Jingga (Therinne), who tries to convince the unstable loner to kill the men who raped her. Halfway through, the film shifts from Elang’s unreliable perspective to that of the policemen trying to piece together exactly what the hell is going on. While the explanation is intriguing, it’s laid on a bit thick. Anyone who’s been to Shutter Island will probably have a good idea where things are headed, but even going through the motions, Upi is able to create some bold visuals, steeped in tension and baroque religious iconography.
The horror itself is quite tame, almost comical. Elang’s frequent visions feature a mother and daughter who live next door being slaughtered by the rabbit, but the violent acts themselves are over the top. The arcs of thick blood and squelchy noises, with little shock factor, seem strange given the rest of the film’s controlled approach. They are fantasy sequences, but everything is done too seriously, and these missteps might be more to do with Upi’s inexperience with the genre.
Performances are similarly restrained, except for Aryasatya in the lead role. His bug-eyed gurning gets a bit tiresome, but unfortunately he’s given very little to do except to sweat and panic. It’s something of a relief when the plot shifts to being about him rather than trying to tell the story through his eyes.
With its rabbit hole of a narrative, Shackled is engaging when it doesn’t try to overthink things. There are some clichés, but it’s refreshing to see Indonesian cinema succeeding in going for a genre story that competes with its bigger, and much better funded, neighbours.
Watch the trailer: