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Get to know your rabbbit
A perpetually frightened barman dreams of a murderous rabbit in SHACKLED / BELENGGU, a pleasingly strange and atmospheric Indonesian horror with a too familiar ring. Gort apprehensively nibbles at his lettuce.
 

What is it with humanoid rabbits in recent years? Rabbits never used to be scary. How could they be? Silly bloody things, with their goofy teeth, unfeasible ears and clown-sized feet. Anyone remember Night of the Lepus? You would if you'd seen it. It's the film in which humans are terrorised by giant carnivorous rabbits, which were created by filming normal sized bunnies from a low angle with close-up lenses and smearing red jam on their teeth.

Yet some of the creepier moments in films in recent years have involved men in rabbit suits. It started with that wonky-toothed and bug-eyed fuck in Donnie Darko, then was picked up by none other than David Lynch for his eerie 2002 Rabbits, which in turn gave birth to that weirdly unsettling cod-sitcom sequence in Inland Empire. Now we have Shackled [Belenggu], in which a mixed-up loner has disturbing dreams about a man in a rabbit suit. Or maybe a woman in a rabbit suit. After all, how do you tell the sex of an artificial rabbit?

The loner in question is barman Elang, whom we first encounter when he's picked up at the roadside and finds himself in a car with a woman, a giant rabbit and the bloodied corpses of two children. Oh wait, it's just a dream, but it's not the first he's had involving this woman and this oversized bunny. Elang lives in apartment whose communal hallway is an exercise in ominous expressionism, though he does seem to be on friendly terms with his neighbours' young daughter Senja. Quite what his relationship is with Senja's mother Djenar is uncertain, but you get the idea that he likes and worries about her but that she's not really that sure about him. When he dreams that Djenar and Senja are horribly murdered by the giant rabbit, he bursts into their apartment to find them sitting safely around the breakfast table with Senja's husband, who is clearly suspicious of everything Elang says and does. But our boy has good reason to look constantly worried. There's a killer on the loose, a bag dragged from the building seems to be leaking blood, and a crazy old lady likes to cackle at him wildly as she passes him in the hall.

But there's more. One night that woman from Elang's dreams walks into the bar in which he works. Her name is Jingga, a Korean Ronald Lacey in a cowboy hat tells him, and she's someone he should probably avoid getting involved with. A couple of nights later she turns up again, this time with a bloke who starts slapping her around. Elang intervenes by breaking a glass over the man's head. Jingga tells him she needs a place to stay for the night. Elang has such a place. "Fate brought us together," the philosophically neutered Jingga tells him as she lies down on his bed beside him. A short while later, Elang finds her hanging by her neck in the attic, and a nun comes up and whispers something in his ear. Minutes later Jingga appears wearing a frightened expression and sporting a bloody nose. All clear?

It may sound as if I'm wandering into spoiler territory but I'm actually not. Right from the start, Elang appears to be having a big problem separating reality from dreams and waking illusions, and for the first half the film presents events solely from his viewpoint. This should make for a teasingly what-the-fuck? experience, hence the attempts by some to link the film to the work as well as the rabbits of David Lynch. Except director Upi Avianto (who is credited here solely as Upi) is not David Lynch, and all this strangeness does actually have some narrative purpose. Which would be all well and fine if you didn't twig this at an inappropriately early stage.

Allow me to explain. For a while, at least, Shackled is an intriguingly unsettling ride, its oddball events aided by appropriately gloomy visuals and a soundtrack that has graduated with honours from Creepy University. The problem is that it overplays its hand too early. Sorry, that was me trying to be clever with words. It overplays its hand and it plays it too early. This is not an ordinary guy to whom weird things start happening, but a one who is already holidaying in mad rabbit land when the story begins. Upi hits us with weird visions from the opening frames and so there's no build-up to the strangeness but forty-five minutes of variations on a theme. And neat though they sometimes are, they also provide the horror familiar all the info they need to unpick the mystery earlier than they are presumably supposed to. I certainly did, some while before the film delivered its own by then none-to-surprising reveal, which I sat patiently through, nodding my head and going "uh-huh" as the results of my reasoning were all ticked off as correct.

But it's not quite that simple. Although what happened was almost exactly what I'd predicted, the reveal came far too early to make narrative sense. I started to get nervous. Was Upi going to spend as long on the revelation as she did on outlining Elang's mental malaise? Well, yes and no, and it's here that the film recovers some of its lost brownie points. It turns out that there's more to the story than we've been allowed to predict, and the climactic revelations about the true nature of the previous revelations, while not exactly earth-rumbling, provide a more satisfying denouement than I would earlier have thought likely.

This still doesn't make Shackled a smarter-than-it-looks winner. We've walked this territory before in one form or another, and the clues are too easy to spot to keep us genre regulars wondering what is going on for long. But there's still an enjoyable creepiness to the low light photography and the unsettling soundtrack and production design, and it's nice to discover that even if you do work it all out before the film confirms you were right, there's more to the story than you probably realised.

sound and vision

Framed 2.35:1 and anamorphically enhanced, this is a jolly good transfer by DVD standards, particularly as so much of it takes place at night or in darkened rooms and corridors. The contrast varies a little depending on the light levels, but at its best it's very good, though as with seemingly every modern horror film, the colours have been muted and given an earthy work-over. The image is spotless, as you'd expect.

The only soundtrack on offer is Dolby 2.0 stereo. Whether the film was mixed in surround I can't say for sure, but this is just the sort of work that cries out for the immersive and "it's behind you" inclusivity of Dolby 5.1. That said, this is still a lively and effectively sinister track with an excellent clarity and dynamic range. If you can re-route the bass through you subwoofer, it'll get a serious workout.

extra features

Trailers? Trailers for other Terracotta releases? That's not an extra feature, it's a sales pitch. Given that the trailers are for Hansel and Gretel, Death Bell and Revenge: A Love Story, however, it's a least a decent one. Oh wait, there's also an Introduction by director Upi, but this only last 38 seconds and is more of a nod of hello than a full introduction.

summary

Nice atmosphere, great soundtrack and rather creepy in places, Shackled is still a little too predictable and saddled with a few too many recycled elements to really score, though it does rally round for the final act. The disc itself has a decent transfer, a good stereo soundtrack but no substantial extras. Horror fans with only a few genre films under their belt should get the most out of it, though genre regulars should give it a look and feel free disagree with my verdict.

Shackled
Belenggu

Indonesia 2012
96 mins
directed by
Upi
produced by
Frederica
Upi
written by
Upi
cinematography
Ical Tanjung
editing
Wawan I. Wibowo
music director
Aksan Sjuman
art director
Iqbal Rayya Rante
starring
Abimana Aryasatya
Avrilla
Laudya Cynthia Bella
Imelda Therinne
Bella Esperance

disc details
region 0
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
Indonesian
subtitles
English (fixed)
extras
Intro by Upi
Trailers
distributor
Terracotta
release date
25 November 2013
review posted
10 December 2013

See all of Gort's reviews