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[Screamfest ’13] ‘308’ Blends Indonesian Folklore with Contemporary Scares

At the Samudra Beach Hotel on the south coast of Java, there is a room forever reserved for a unique guest: Nyi Roro Kidul, the Queen of the Southern Sea in Indonesian mythology. Room 308 is completely furnished and features several paintings of the female spirit, as well as offerings, flowers, and altars. People visit the room, which is guarded by a “spiritual doorman,” to meditate and pray for their welfare.

This curious little room is the inspiration for Indonesian director Jose Poernomo’s new film, 308. It’s not about people traveling to the hotel to pray though – that would be boring as hell – it’s about a group of believers intending to use the room for much more sinister reasons. Mixing elements of horror with regional folklore and fantasy, 308 is a pretty tense ride and the type of slow-burn horror I really dig. Poernomo takes his time dishing out little clues and bits of exposition so by the time the shit hits the fan, there’s some real weight to the terror. I was confused a bit about some elements of the spirit, but overall the whole ride is interesting and delivers some well-earned scares.

Naya (Shandy Aulia) is a recent college graduate who’s starting to get desperate for a job. When a friend tells her she can score her a gig housekeeping at a plush hotel, Naya jumps at the chance. She takes care of her little sister, Airi, so she brings her along. It’s a massive place and one of the hotels where the housekeeping staff lives in-house. When she arrives, the hotel manager Sena drops a bomb on her: the hotel is actually shut down for the next four days and no one can leave because they’re having the outside fumigated. This is super sketchy and probably where Naya should’ve grabbed Airi and bounced, but she needs the job. I’ve been there, sister.

Sena lays some lame excuses on Naya on why she’s never to go into room 308, but it’s quickly apparent that he’s hiding something. The rest of the the hotel crew is shady too. There are two other housekeepers and one excitable chef. The whole cast is solid except for the chef who does some seriously goofy overacting. His tiresome zaniness feels out of place here. I guess he’s supposed to be the comic relief since everyone else plays it straight, but it didn’t work for me.

Naya begins snooping around the hotel and unraveling the plot as the horror starts slowly trickling in. There’s some stuff we’ve seen before (spider-walk, flying utensils), but it all feels fresh within the story of 308. The violence is mostly implied and a lot of the scares are delivered in brought day light, in well-lit rooms. Visually, the film is very impressive. I found the most effective sequence to be the chase during the finale. Good chases are hard to come by nowadays and the one in 308 totally delivers the white-knuckle goods. The enormous hotel space is used effectively as well. Since it’s shut down, many of the floors are shrouded in darkness. Little Airi likes playing hide and seek, which obviously leads to some trouble.

Like I mentioned earlier, I got a little lost myself in the story of the mythological spirit and how it related to what was going on in the hotel. Luckily, there’s a bit near the end where it’s all tied together nicely and explained in full. So if you’re a little slow like me and couldn’t follow, don’t sweat it.

308 is an interesting story that blends Indonesian mythology with contemporary scares. It’s also the highest grossing horror film in Indonesia for 2013, if that helps sell it a little more for ya.

308 is making its U.S. premiere at Screamfest on 10/10 at 5pm and 10/12 at 5:30pm.



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