Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kimo Stamboel’s Dancing Village: The Curse Begins

They hold a dancing contest in this small Java village that is a lot like the 1930’s dance-offs seen in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They. However, in this case, the sooner dancers collapse, the safer they will be. The lucky “winner” will be damned to dance with demons forever. Mila will be lured back to her mother’s ancestral home, just in time to see the sinister ritual revived in Kimo Stamboel’s Dancing Village: The Curse Begins, which opens this Friday in theaters.

Rather suddenly, Mila’s mother was stricken with a mysterious, debilitating illness. According to a shaman, the affliction will lift if Mila returns the ancient bangle her mother took from the so-called “Dancing Village.” This would be the same village seen in the
KKN films, the top-grossing Indonesian horror franchise based on SimpleMan’s novel. Since this is a prequel, you don’t need to worry about those earlier later films.

With her cousin Yuda, his friend Arya, and their reluctant guide, they find the village, but they do not receive much of a welcome. The village headman has inconveniently passed away and their spiritual leader, Mbah Buyut is out of town. Almost immediately, Mila starts having visions of Badarawuli, the demonic femme fatale. Rather ominously. The mother of her host, Ratih, also exhibits similarly severe mystery symptoms.

There is some blood and guts, but
Dancing Village depends more on mood and atmosphere for its scares. This is folk horror and its folkiest. It is chillingly effective in a slow-burn kind of way. In fact, Dancing Village is probably Stamboel’s most suggestive and quietly eerie film to date, either as a solo director or working with Timo Tjahjanto as the Mo Brothers. Admittedly, some of the dancing damnation scenes are almost campy, but in a way that is still deeply creepy.

Aulia Sarah is fabulously and flamboyantly evil as Badarawuli. She is definitely a demonic entity who can accessorize. Diding Boneng has the right crusty Van Helsing-ish thing going on as old Buyut. Maudy Effrosina and Claresta Taufan Kusumarina have some spectacular freakouts as Mila and Ratih. However, Jourdy Pranata, Ardit Erwandha, and M. Iqbal Sulaiman are a wishy-washy lot playing Mila’s entourage.

It hardly matters that many of the supporting characters are somewhat on the dense side.
Dancing Village is all about evil small town vibes and spooky looking relics. The art and design work are terrific and Patrick Tashadian’s cinematography is appropriately moody. Even though the previous KKN films did not have American theatrical distribution, Dancing Village is an accessible entry point and a good example of why Indonesia is becoming a leading exporter of horror films. Highly recommended for genre fans, Dancing Village: The Curse Begins opens Friday (4/26) in New York at the AMC Empire.