Tuesday, July 27

Gerbang Neraka (2017): Genre-defying mess

*Estimated Read Time: 2 mins

Review: Gerbang Neraka a.k.a. Firegate (literally ‘Hell Gate’) combines an urban legend about Gunung Padang in West Java with sci-fi bravura and horror apparition into making a rare genre-bending Indonesian film. The film focuses on an excavation process of the allegedly oldest pyramid structure in the world (said to be older than Giza in Egypt and Mayan in Mexico), which lies underneath a mountain. Like in other ‘pyramid films’, the excavation was plagued from beginning to end, with body counts start to rise from day to day.
There came the film’s trinity: a young archeologist who believes in no supernatural power, Arni (Julie Estelle), a struggling heresy-laden tabloid reporter, Tomo (Reza Rahadian), and a celebrity ‘demon hunter’ Guntur Samudera (Dwi Sasono). Intertwined by their own ambition in regards to Gunung Padang pyramid, those three protagonists began to intersect each other’s life and unravel a hideous secret about the mega-structure.
At the surface, Gerbang Neraka offers a fresh premise that blends sci-fi and horror. It teases audiences with sci-fi gimmick about the unknown human civilization and scares audiences (this film is best at it) with well-designed apparitions of supernatural entity. At some points, it criticizes beliefs among Indonesians regarding supernatural power and beings, which is often commercialized. However, this film never delves into the premise more than on-screen mentions, leaving the sci-fi elements almost superfluous.
Gerbang Neraka (2017) – Reza Rahadian & Julie Estelle | Image via BookMyShow
Gerbang Neraka had all the time to cook up the premise, optimizing each pivotal character’s trait; but, it instead presents those characters as a mere tool, not some ‘characters’ to get sympathized. Arni’s archaeological background (well, actually the whole archaeological elements) is raw; so is Tomo’s journalism tenure. In one point, Tomo claims to have conducted a thorough research on the mystery, but his findings never reflect any of it. There are hiccups in the storytelling, especially in presenting details of events, which might possibly make audiences frowned at best. Here’s one example: while escaping from a crumbling structure, the characters only run for few meters outside the cavity and feel relieved in doing so.
Aside from terrifying character design, gripping performance by the leads is possibly what saves Gerbang Neraka from directly plunging into real hell. Rahadian, Estelle and Sasono bring out their all-out prowess in making their character feel real, despite all the flaws. To join the rank is Lukman Sardi’s performance in a well-kept role.
Indonesian cinema indeed needs more films like this—films which confidently breaks the ground and defy genre conventionality. Yet, there’s still so much to learn and improve. Gerbang Neraka is a well-intended attempt which could’ve been much better.

Gerbang Neraka (2017)

Adventure, Horror, Mystery Directed by: Rizal Mantovani Written by: Robert Ronny Starred by: Julie Estelle, Reza Rahadian, Dwi Sasono Runtime: 112 mins

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