Indonesia is an interesting country, one where a mainly Muslim population still likes to explore Eastern-style mysticism in its writings and films. Suzzanna: Buried Alive, a new Netflix horror film, explores what would happen if a certain Indonesian urban legend was actually true. But is it entertaining?
The Gist: It’s May, 1989. Suzzanna (Luna Maya) is overjoyed to tell her husband Satria (Herjunot Ali) that, after years of trying, she’s pregnant with their first child. Satria, a wealthy factory manager, is devoted to Suzzanna and wants to stay with her, but he has to travel to Japan for a business trip, and hopes she and the house’s staff — Mia (Arsi Welas), Mr. Rojali (Opie Kumis) and Tohir (Ence Bagus) — can keep her safe and healthy while he’s gone.
Meanwhile, four workers in Satria’s factory, whose request for a pay increase was rejected by Satria, decide to burglarize their boss’ house and steal one of his cars. Jonal (Verdi Solaiman) is the ringleader, Gino (Kiki Narendra) needs to pay for meds for his mother, and Dudun (Alex Abbad) just wants to score a haul. Umar (T. Rifnu Wikana), who negotiated the crew’s pay with Satria, is most reluctant, especially if it may put Suzzanna in harm’s way; he’s got a bit of a crush on her.
The plan is to rob the house while Suzzanna is out to the movies, but she comes home early, surprising them. A massive struggle ensues, and she almost gets away, but she’s impaled on a pole one of the men uses as a weapon. Then the group bury her while she’s still breathing.
One problem: Because she was pregnant, Suzzanna becomes what urban legend calls a “sundel bolong,” a spirit who takes the form of the dead woman, who floats around avenging her death. At home, the sundel bolong looks and acts like Suzzanna, but in the mirror, you can see the hole in her back where the pole impaled her. She can’t kill her killers herself, but when she’s at her most powerful, she can manipulate the world around her to kill her targets or, in one case, get one target to kill another. The burglars get so desperate, they ask Gino’s witch doctor uncle, Mr. Turu (Norman R. Akyuwen) to help kill her, especially after Satria comes back from his trip and finds out what happened and what his seemingly normal wife (who won’t pray anymore) actually is now.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I Spit On Your Grave, Halloween, Carrie — pretty much any horror movie where someone exacts revenge, whether through supernatural or other means.
Performance Worth Watching: Luna Maya is a little over the top when she’s playing Suzzanna, loving wife to Satria, but when she’s Suzzanna, vengeful sundel bolong, she’s fun to watch, especially when she lets loose her signature cackle.
Memorable Dialogue: “Satria. I am your wife. In life and in death. If you love me, look into my eyes. Before I leave this world.” — Suzzanna to Satria as her ghostly form begs him to trust her.
Single Best Shot: A really good close-up of the hole in Suzzanna’s back as she stalks one of her killers. It’s gross in all the best ways.
Sex and Skin: Aside from one of the attackers getting a massage, nothing.
Our Take: There’s a really fun horror movie in the 125-minute running time of Suzzanna: Buried Alive (original title: Suzzanna: Bernapas dalam Kubur); scenes like the fight she has to get away from the burglars are entertaining, and while it’s not overly scary, the revenge story takes more than enough turns to keep from getting too boring, and it’s fun to root for the ghost with a hole in her back for a change. It’s also not bad that, while the film has Netflix-funded production values, much of it is still over-the-top and cheesy, just like a good popcorn horror film should be.
But the big problem is that the movie is far too long. The house’s staff is there as comic relief, and they seem to spend too many scenes sitting there scheming and planning, especially when Mr. Rojali brings up the topic of the sundel bolong. Tohir specifically looks and acts like an Asian stereotype from one of those banned Bugs Bunny cartoons from World War II, complete with a mustache that may still be appropriate in Indonesia but is an uneasy look for Western audience. Could this be a cultural difference between Indonesian and U.S. sensibilities? Probably. But the scenes with the three of them still feel clunky and unnecessary.
Other scenes feel long and drawn out, given the movie’s relatively straightforward plot. But cutting 20 minutes from the film would have picked up the pace, even with some of those scenes left in.
Our Call: STREAM IT, especially if you’re in the mood for a cheesy, semi-gross popcorn movie. Just be aware that there are some scenes that you can let play out while you put away the dishes.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company’s Co.Create and elsewhere.