I’m all for stories that unravel at their own unhurried pace so long as they reward the audience for investing their time. However, there’s a fine line between slow and boring and unfortunately, Roh is the latter. While Roh can be visually arresting at times, the underdeveloped characters -not to mention the constant traversing of the jungle with long takes – quickly gets monotonous. The lack of connectivity between the characters also makes for an incoherent and frustrating experience.
The broad strokes of a story are here. A family takes in a runaway child. They name her Adik (played by Putri Qaseh). However, their kindness is repaid in cruelty. The girl kills herself in front of them and warns they’ll all die during the next full moon. The family experiences strange occurrences and, even worse, the family has a lot taken from them even though they’re already impoverished. There’s another plot point regarding the girl’s father Namron (Pemburu) who makes a deal with a demon. The terms and conditions of said deal are never stated. Will his daughter be resurrected; will her soul go to heaven? Not knowing what’s at stake makes the exchange feel pointless.
The lack of dialogue really hurts this movie since a lot of what takes place is inferred. The demon tells Namron in the closing sequence that he could have saved the family, but he was too concerned with his daughter. This revelation is reveled far too late in story and implies this was his story all along.
It’s not all bad though. Roh is a beautiful movie thanks to cinematographer Saifuddin Musa. Haunting images such as a dead tree spontaneously bursting into flames after the completion of a ritual look stunning and peaceful at the same time despite the menacing connotations. Another sequence highlights Mak (Farah Ahmad) and Angah (Harith Haziq) when they question shaman Tok (June Lojong) about the whereabouts of Along (Mhia Farhana). The characters are framed amongst the trees which seems otherworldlym almost like the branches are creating a spotlight out of the wood around the respective characters. The final exchange between Namron and the demon looks great as well. A simple shot with the two characters sitting around a campfire as the demon’s hulking shadow is cast on the rocks behind them.
When it comes to atmospheric horror, there should be an escalating sense of dread or a haunting revelation, but the movie doesn’t deliver either. The demon asking Namron “what did you really see?” is exactly the same question I found myself asking as the credits rolled.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The Big Comic Page was provided a screener of the movie. Roh premiered via virtual cinema, VOD & Digital on October 29, 2021.
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511