Wide World of Horror: ‘Jangan pandang belakang (Don’t Look Back’) – when ineptitude begets charm

Jangan pandang belakang (Don’t Look Back)220px-Jangan-Pandang-Belakang
Screenplay by Ahmad Idham
Directed by Ahmad Idham
Malaysia, 2007

There’s a certain charm to Jangan pandang belakang, a charm that stops the movie from being absolutely dreadful. Said charm isn’t enough to produce a well-made film, but it’s hard not to appreciate a film that still believes horror is in the 1960s. Saying that Jangan pandang belakang doesn’t attempt to be scary is misleading, because the film really does try. It tries in every way that a film could try, but it’s simply not able to make anything worthwhile out of any attempts at being more than people play acting in front of a camera.

That charm is present though. It’s present in the attempts at atmosphere, in the woefully obvious jump scares, and even in the bad attempts at acting. No one involved with Jangan pandang belakang is trying to make a bad film, and that earnestness is what allows the charm of the film to exist. There’s no mistaking that Jangan pandang belakang is a badly made film, but the film gets a lot of leeway because of how hard it is trying to be good.

There’s a scene in Jangan pandang belakang where a ghost is floating behind a car. Unfortunately the computer graphics (or the dummy floating in the air as it’s hard to discern which is which) are not up to the task of following the car. The ghost floats well behind the car then speeds up to the car, then lags behind again as the car drives away. That ghost is supposed to be right on top of the car. But, it’s not, and that’s emblematic of all the problems found in Jangan pandang belakang. This is a film that can’t get anything right, and yet it keeps plugging along thinking that it is getting everything right.

Ahmad Idham’s film is amateurish and, not to sound like a broken record, that is part of its charm. Were Jangan pandang belakang a polished production there wouldn’t be much to enjoy about the film. Jangan pandang belakang isn’t a good, great, or even decent film. It’s a bad film, the sort that could easily be bashed and ripped to shreds. To do so would lose sight of the heart that is behind the film and that Jangan pandang belakang isn’t just another film off the horror genre assembly line. There’s no real reason for anyone to ever see Jangan pandang belakang. That being said, the earnestness of Jangan pandang belakang almost, just almost, makes up for the ineptitude that the film displays as a whole.

-Bill Thompson

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