Wide World of Horror: Modus Anomali (Ritual) – silence establishes mood in lieu of sound

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Written by Joko Anwar
Directed by Joko Anwar
Indonesia, 2012

It’s a sad thing when the need for a twist dampens wonderful use of sound and created tension. The first fifty minutes of Modus Anomali are very tense, with atmosphere oozing off the screen. This is thanks in large part to the way that the film handles sound. The tense atmosphere never truly goes away, and the use of sound remains magnificent throughout. However, there comes a point when the film decides it is more interested in a twist than what it has been creating.

The majority of Modus Anomali is silent. Not silent as in silent cinema, but silent as in there’s a decided lack of a soundtrack or score. The film relies on the sounds of the forest, the footsteps of its characters, and the unnerving reverberations of breathing in a quiet setting. The use of sound in Modus Anomali is Joko Anwar’s crowning achievement. It’s been quite some time since a horror movie has used a lack of sound as deliciously as Modus Anomali.

What the lack of sound does is to force the viewer to deal with the horror of John Evans’ plight. This creates an immediacy to the horror found in the film. In turn an atmosphere is created where every moment seems like it could be the last for John. He’s not a character we know much of anything about, and that’s also important in the creation of superb tension. Because of the emptiness of John the viewer will be able to see themselves as the lead character. His danger becomes the viewer’s danger and that makes the tension and the atmosphere that much more palpable.

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The final act of Modus Anomali betrays much of what comes before. The twist seems unneeded, but it does work within the narrative. That doesn’t mean the narrative needed such a twist, or that the twist added much to the proceedings. The reason for the twist is befuddling, and while the plot is easy to decipher after the twist it removes much needed mystery from the atmosphere of the film. The final act doesn’t wander completely off the trail, but it comes darn tooting close.

Luckily the final act only dampens the overall impact of the film. Modus Anomali isn’t destroyed by its final act, only battle scarred. Sdr Anwar has crafted two thirds of a great horror film. The obviously fake scenes of someone throwing up and the awkward phone call that takes place near the end can easily be overlooked because of the strength of the films tension and atmosphere. The weakness, and narrative betrayal, of the final act cannot so easily be tossed aside. Modus Anomali is a quality horror film, but it’s sad to know that with a better final act it could have been a truly great entry into the horror annals.

-Bill Thompson

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