As one half of Indonesian directing duo the Mo Brothers, Kimo Stamboel is known for unleashing gruesome horror, action, and thriller flicks on midnight crowds. From Macabre to Killers to Headshot, he’s shown a knack for making movies that boast plenty of arterial spray and sinister thrills. They’re pretty awesome.
DreadOut is his first solo project since taking a temporary break from partner-in-crime Timo Tjahjanto, and it sees him treading familiar ground, albeit minus the ferocious punch of his previous films.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, though — far from it, actually. DreadOut is just more of a general audience-pleaser compared to Stamboel’s other work. But his ability to captivate a fun horror set-piece remains intact, and he hasn’t completely abandoned his established sensibilities to appease the mainstream.
Based on the video game of the same same, DreadOut follows Linda (Caitlin Halderman) and her friends as they investigate a haunted apartment with the aim of capturing supernatural activity to boost their social media profiles. At first, they try to con viewers with fake ghostly sightings, but their meddling with the unknown eventually opens a portal to a terrifying realm populated with demons.
As it turns out, Linda is able to read ancient demonic texts and ward off her supernatural foes with the flash on her cell phone. Naturally, it’s up to her to save the day and close the gateway the hellish dimension before the proverbial chocolate hotdog hits the fan. The main antagonist is the Red Kabaya Lady (Rima Melati Adams), the ruler of the other realm who doesn’t take too kindly to people visiting or trying to escape.
With the portal open, she’s determined to trap our protagonists in the spooky plane with the creatures that dwell there. Fortunately, said creatures are terrified of the light from cell phone flashes.
Enjoyment of DreadOut will mostly depend on your tolerance of video game adaptations. Personally, I think plenty of them are entertaining and I’d rank this one up there with the strongest efforts out there. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to you because you can’t think of any that are considered good, but if you’re among the niche crowd that appreciates the eerie awesomeness of Silent Hill, you’re in for a treat here.
DreadOut manages to thread enough of a story together between monster showdowns to keep it prodding along admirably, but the real stars of this show are the forces of evil. Some demons we meet are visually reminiscent of the Evil Dead movies, but monster fans will rejoice in the diverse roster of monstrosities on display. The ghouls are also heavily steeped in folklore, which gives them a cultural identity that’s more fascinating than your average video game movie monster.
Of course, as is the case with all video game movies, there’s a need to channel the spirit of the source material while also providing a cinematic experience that works for all members of the audience. Stamboel is conscious of that here, and he finds a happy medium. The film complements a traditional third-person set-up with firsthand found-footage elements, which works to great effect. The scenes involving the phones and social media live-streaming are genuinely immersive, and during those moments, the film feels akin to being thrust into the environment of a survival-horror game. These transitions feel cinematic, though, as opposed to an homage to DreadOut‘s original medium.
The only downside of DreadOut is that it doesn’t bother explaining the mythology. I’m all for ambiguous horror, but some more backstory about the other world and these creatures would go a long way. There’s some interesting mythology bubbling under the surface here, dying to be explored further. However, the film does set up a potential franchise, so there’s plenty of time to expand upon these ideas in more detail down the line. And it does more than enough to earn a sequel, which is fine for now.