Fantasia 2019: Dreadout
The first standalone feature from Kimo Stamboel caught my attention after discovering his previous work had all been with Timo Tjahjanto, whose action/thriller The Night Comes For Us was one of the best surprises of 2018. If one half of the duo behind such films as Headshot went off to make that, I couldn't wait to see what Kimo could do. Stepping away from action, he decided to take his talents to the realm of horror fantasy. Dreadout (which is an adaptation of an Indonesian video game of the same name) is a film that blends together countless genre tropes with some stellar camera work to create an effectively creepy haunted house story that unfortunately relies on an overstuffed plot to lead the way.
The film centers on six teenagers who decide to break into an infamous haunted apartment building in an attempt to go viral. They enlist the help of Linda (Caitlin Halderman), who knows a security guard that can get them inside. Once inside, the group stumbles upon a room with a mysterious symbol on the ground and a bunch of old pages laying around detailing an ancient ritual. When Linda reads one of the pages, a door is opened in the floor and they end up in a fight for their lives with an ancient demon from another dimension.
For fans of the video game I am sure this plot makes a lot more sense, but for someone with no prior background with it, the story is this movie’s biggest enemy. Since there is a history with the main character, Linda, and the film wants you to actually understand what this means, there are moments where the action stops dead in its tracks for confusing exposition. Much like the original property, the film decides to have its characters constantly use cell phones. This may work well in the hands of the user in a game, but it becomes a frustrating hindrance to a movie. I found it best to just not worry about these things and instead enjoy what Kimo is doing visually.
At a brisk 97 minutes, Dreadout doesn't take its time getting going, which is good. The cellphone trick actually sets an almost “found-footage” style tone early on, which makes it easy to not worry about story and just focus on these people trying to survive, which there is plenty of. In the action sequences, Stamboel’s talents flourish, as he brings his eye for action into the horror genre, filling this movie with small moments that really dazzle. He often moves the camera with flinging bodies or flying axes amping up the intensity of the entire movie.
He also clearly has an eye for scary. This movie features a number of different genre tropes like demons, possession, and zombies; and all of them look phenomenal while doing a great job of unsettling the viewer. The main adversary, an ancient otherworldly demon, truly got under my skin on more than one occasion. She is often leaking a blackish ooze from her mouth that I found quite unsettling and the physicality of the character is frighteningly effective.
I would have liked to see this lean slightly harder into the horror and up the body count, perhaps. More people make it out of this move than should have and because of that we don’t get much else for the monsters to do besides psychological torture. This is effective, of course, but I felt something lacking at the end of the film. Often horror will close with a cathartic or satisfying moment, and others with a cold lingering effect. Dreadout just kind of ends without any real emotional bang or satisfying payoff.
With a short runtime, the first solo feature from Kimo Stramboel is a fun trip into the world of horror and fantasy. If you begin to pick apart the plot and its devices it begins to unravel quickly into a pile of nonsense. As a piece of simple and effective visual horror, however, there is a lot to enjoy here from the inventive camera work to the impressive sets, makeup, and visual effects. I’m interested to see how this plays with American audiences that I am sure aren't as familiar with its source material, but It’s clear Stamboel is talented behind the camera and I'm excited to see what he can do with a stronger script.