In this spoiler-filled review, we discuss Raja Mukhriz‘s horror-thriller, 7ujuh which is a horrific account of how seven students were left to their own accord in isolation and going through the consequences of their own sins. Remember this article has SPOILERS.
The 1970s Aesthetic
The golden streamers, floating balloons and leftover coloured bottles reminiscence that of the haunting 1920s party in the large halls of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining and this is the claustrophobic setting of the bungalow numbered seven in 7ujuh.
As opposed to the common sepia used for films set in 1970s, 7ujuh incorporated a grey-ish blue hue on screen thus, reminding the audience that in spite of the lively and loud scenery of the party held by Sam (Johan As’ari) for his college friends during a semester break at the bungalow, a horror story lies just beneath.
A staple in that period (it was less taboo even among the mainstream public), drugs and alcohol were regular mediums of escape. Our censorship board, paranoid as usual, thought that this would be a bad influence to viewers so they removed so much of these scenes (including sexual ones) that the editing seems slightly off putting at times, and even disrupts the flow of the plot in certain occasions.
Other than that, the way the movie is put together feels organised and purposeful. The editing used in 7ujuh; focuses on the characters to create an effectively disturbing (although sometimes puzzling) atmosphere. On occasion however, wide shots of landscapes leave me disengaged by the characters as it inadvertently makes the role smaller.
What struck me the most is the use of flashing lights in some of the montages that may warrant a photo-epileptic sensitivity warning. Be mindful of that if you know who might have the condition!
The Curse That Started it all
What befalls the seven youths left at the lone bungalow in the village after the chaotic party died down was a curse imposed by Suri (the incomparable, Marsha Milan Londoh in one of her finest performances) a daughter of the village chief (Wan Hanafi Su) from an Orang Asli tribe who is knowledgeable in the dark arts. The film then turns into a mystery: why did Suri decide to unleash the paranormal upon them? Flashbacks hinted that her innocence may be corrupted by Tina (the scene-stealing, Siti Saleha) who is an openly lesbian woman attracted to both Suri and one of Sam’s friends, Yasmin* (Cristina Suzanne).
The horrors then came trudging in when the group had to battle against the allure of sleep after understanding that a phantom would kill them in their dreams (a unique form of terror) and one by one their lives were taken; Emma’s body (Dee Dee Nash) was gorily broken and “folded” by a menacing ghoul, a haunting depiction of fiery hell caused the death of Ilyas (Aeril Zafrel) and Ray (Riz Amin) drowned in a bath tub (which was beautifully shot) and was impaled by shards of glass. The haunting may or may not be original considering that many of the scares have been done before, but the editing, acting, and cinematic style makes 7ujuh inventive especially in the local horror scenes. Familiar, yet primal and memorable.
The twist of the knife is the confession by Mus (Pekin Ibrahim) that he and Ray were the ones who’d sexually assaulted Suri after she was drugged by Tina and Ilyas was a witness to the crime yet he did not report it merely on his loyalty to their friendship. This did come as a shock when it was initially depicted as if Tina was the one who’d violated Suri however, even though she did not act on it, the film still illustrates that she’d intended to because she was simply dared by Yasmin. The notion that these unfortunate events occurred because it was instigated by Yasmin’s comments about Tina not being able to “have” a woman like her or Suri left a bitter taste in my mouth.
It seemed illogical that Yasmin too was cursed because of her drunken remark especially when she was not directly involved in the assault; it is disconcerting that a person be blamed as well when she simply did not commit the sexual offence and resulted in turning a progressive narrative about the repercussions of a sexual crime to making it an innocent woman’s fault. The refuge that finally there’s a film that addresses the violence of rape culture (gratifying towards patriarchy’s contribution) is now disregarded because the root of the evil is just Yasmin’s suggestion which should in no way invites the sexual assault.
Raja Mukhriz has stamped his own trademark in 7ujuh through the heavily and intentional editing, the camerawork and the sound mixing including Suri’s whispers about her curse and a reflection of what the main characters have said previously, (i.e. the chilling echoes of the word, “Asap (Smoke)” which was initially mentioned by Yasmin during the scene of Ilyas burning in the fire). 7ujuh is a detailed horror-flick that will engrave itself in the minds of viewers either from its frightening scenes or the subject matter of its premise told from the eye of an especial director and a convincing script by Ellyna Ahmad.
*As a straight woman who supports the LGBTQA+ community, I was conflicted by the personality of Tina since her sexuality is only showcased as predatory (not to deny that sexual offenders could be just anyone) but I also realised considering my sexual preference; I dare not speak for the group and would rather let them decide if the representation of a homosexual character in 7ujuh was favourable and appropriate.
Featured Image source: Cinema Online.