Awi Suryadi has become a legit name in Indonesian horror cinema. His three recent horrors (Danur, Danur 2: Maddah, Asih; dubbed as Danur universe) were all blockbuster hits with mixed to negative reviews condemning his over-abuse of cinematic style (including the never-ending Duch tilts) that borrows from famous horror auteurs, jump-scares with blatant sound effects, and, mostly, weak scripts. His recent venture, Sunyi, is a loose adaptation of the 1998 South Korean horror blockbuster, Whispering Corridors—a horror which isn’t necessarily needing an adaptation.
While the Korean movie (which spawned 4 sequels) sets on an all-girl school (which somehow juxtaposes Suryadi’s 2008 horror, Sumpah Pocong di Sekolah, which sets in an all-boy school; coincidence? I believe, no), Sunyi sets on a post-reformation hi-fi school where structured bullying is allowed by the school boards. Alex (Angga Aldi Yunanda), son of a deceased celeb-psychic, is one of the freshmen, who must comply with the senior’s caste culture. While facing constant harassment from the school bullies (Teuku Ryzki, Arya Vasco, and Naomi Paulinda), Alex also starts to see ghastly apparitions of three students that allegedly died because of target bullying. At the same time, he meets another ten-grader, Maggie (Amanda Rawles), who helps him through the hard time.
The idea of school as the real-life horror for new students is a fresh addition to the franchise’s constant theme of bullying. In Sunyi, fresh ten-graders are “slaves” who cannot access the cafeteria, toilet, and library; meanwhile, second-graders are “humans”, free from the slavery but isn’t superior to third-graders dubbed as “kings” and alumni “gods.” So, basically this remake is not a verbatim remake, but rather, a reimagining of Whispering Corridors with Indonesian actors. The movie even acknowledges that the Korean movie exists in the movie’s universe with a cameo of Whispering Corridors DVD. And yet, there’s barely real significance of the Indonesian setting, especially the 2000 setting. The story feels foreign; the setting of time plays little impact but some cameos of old-school cars, phones and former president portraits. Even, it’s quite elusive how the movie sets in a seemingly “normal” luxurious school while the country was still struggling to rise from an economic blow that struck less than 2 years ago.
Similar to the Korean counterpart, Sunyi is thick on atmosphere but thin on characters. Suryadi borrows the atmosphere much from the source material and gives personal touches, including the excessive tilt of Dutch tilts and long, harrowing alley, which surprisingly adds up with the many corridor settings. The director understands the school setting as his horror playground: long, dim-lighted corridors, bleak toilets and storages, spacious yet empty halls and fields, as well as gloomy classroom. While he could not refrain himself from showcasing his penchant to use loud, disturbing scores, he knows pretty well how to make the school a spooky arena. And yet, as the story goes, Suryadi is unable to retain the atmospheric horror as he focuses on presenting the apparitions and jump-scares.
Sunyi gives away its shocking value too prematurely. The trailer has already unveiled more than one important plot points (and most harrowing scenes). Less than thirty minutes into the movie, Sunyi also recklessly unravels an important twist due to non-subtle staging. Those familiar with Whispering Corridors might even find it surprising that Sunyi gives in too easy, even when the narrative is only slightly similar. Even so, Suryadi still saves up at least two carefully staged horror spectacles (including the listening lab and swimming pool terror) to prove his capability in executing some good horror scenes.