Needling fear

Dark arts, beautiful women and greed form a cauldron of thrills and chills that is Susuk.

The British poet Thomas Nashe once called beauty a “flower, which wrinkles will devour.” Indeed it is interesting to note just how far some people will go in pursuit of beauty and the hope of keeping it forever. But all things come at a price.

And that’s the crux of long-awaited supernatural thriller Susuk, from local director Amir Muhammad, 36, and his counterpart, American-Iranian Naeim Ghalili, 45.

In the horror movie Susuk, Diana Rafar’s character undergoes the mandi bunga – a cleansing ritual before the insertion of the susuk.

Amir and Naeim started working together in 2002 for Amir’s 6Shorts, and later again teamed up for The Big Durian (2003) and Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (2006). The friends seem to have found a comfortable rhythm working together.

In Susuk, for a solid 110 minutes, audiences are teased endlessly with different elements of intrigue, mystique and hidden charms as the directors stretch viewers’ imagination regarding the hold a supernatural power can have over its users/practitioners.

The duo of directors must have done something right as the movie raked in RM1.2mil within only five days of its release in cinemas nationwide on Aug 7.

The making of ...

Susuk was filmed mainly in the Klang Valley and in Batu Gajah, Perak, for three months in 2006. The movie takes a good look at women who aspire to become superstars in the glamourous world of entertainment. To ensure they stay on top of their game, they resort to the ancient practice of susuk, a mystical art of inserting objects such as gold and diamonds – known as charm needles – under one’s skin to increase and sustain one’s allure.

The co-directors of Susuk worked in a complementary capacity. Naeim Ghalili (left) handled the film’s technical aspects such as camera movements while Amir Muhammad focussed on the scripts and acting.

The film traces the story of four women Suzanna (Ida Nerina), Soraya (Diana Rafar), Mona (Sofea Jane) and Rozana (Aleeza Kassim).

Soraya is a young trainee nurse who longs for a better life. A chance introduction to the world of showbiz piques her desire to be a starlet and she resorts to susuk to ensure she succeeds.

Meanwhile, there is Suzanna, a popular diva who has been practising susuk for a long time and every time she violates a rule or pantang, a human sacrifice is required.

Sofea Jane’s character is the spoilt and impatient diva, Mona. Sofea admitted that she was taken in by Mona’s character the moment she read the script.

The film’s mysterious, emotionless ‘puppetmaster’ is played by Adlin Aman Ramlie.

“I fell in love with Mona,” she said. “but I only had between five and six scenes without much dialogue in the movie. So it was quite a challenge to play the role. I tried my best to show that underneath all her glamour, Mona is a pathetic and sad person ... a lost soul.”

Adlin Aman Ramlie plays Bomoh Dewangga, the movie’s “puppet master”.

“Bomoh Dewangga never shows any feelings or emotions in the movie,” explained director Amir. “In Susuk, Adlin’s character never gets emotional because he doesn’t have any emotion. He controls everything.”

Through Susuk, the eventful lives of these people unravel until finally, the true secret of this forbidden practice is revealed.

With the likes of Ida, Diana, Sofea and Adlin as its main cast, Susuk is all geared to get those chills running down your spine.

It takes two

Produced by Grand Brilliance in collaboration with Monsoon Pictures, at a budget of RM1.8mil, Susuk marks Amir’s first big-budget film, after numerous smaller successes in the thriving underground movie scene.

“Why two directors? The fact is that it’s a big responsibility shooting a horror flick like Susuk,” reasoned Amir, adding that they worked in a complementary capacity.

Suzanna (Ida Nerina) plots with Bomoh Dewangga (Adlin Aman Ramlie) in a scene fromSusuk.

“Naeim is very good with technical aspects such as camera movements and shooting nice shots, while I had more to do with the scripts and acting.”

There was plenty of communication between both directors, however, as Amir observed the progress and flow of the technical side of things as much as Naeim did for the plot and cast.

Asked why he chose susuk as the subject of his film, Amir replied: “It is part of our culture and it is a taboo subject. We all know about it but no one dares discuss it. And as you know, I like taboo subjects,” Amir confessed his penchant for controversy – his previous efforts, including Lelaki Komunis Terakhir and Apa Khabar Orang Kampung, were banned in Malaysia!

“In the movie, we talk about celebrities practising susuk, but in reality, many women and men from all walks of life use susuk. And don’t be surprised some even use susuk for power,” explained Amir who researched the topic extensively by interviewing several bomoh (witch doctors) and elderly people.

Amir chose to explore the taboo subject in relation to celebrities because they have a huge following and it would drive home the message of the movie to a larger audience.

“We did it on purpose really. We could have used other professions like politics or accountants but it would not have as powerful an impact as using celebrities.”

He also added that Ida – known for her portrayal of evil characters in XX-Ray 2 and Gerak Khas the Movie 2 – has a quality that can be defined as sensuous evil and was the perfect candidate for Suzanna in Susuk.

Relative newcomer Diana was paired with the more established Ida because Amir saw similarities between them. “Both of them have big eyes. And Diana’s innocent and feminine looks go well with her character, Soraya. The two women have a certain resonance, so that’s why Naeim and I chose them for the film.”

Amir added that he purposely wrote the script with twists and turns that could leave some viewers confused at the end of the movie.

“I did that on purpose so viewers would try and analyse the movie,” he said smiling.

“There are movies, once you leave the cinema you immediately forget about them but I want people to analyse and start talking about Susuk when the movie ends. Actually we are both excited to see what the feedback from the public will be like,” said Amir adding that Susuk received overwhelming response when it was screened at the Pesaro Film Festival in Italy in June.

It is also slated to be showcased at the 38th Rotterdam International Film Festival in the Netherlands next January.

Susuk is currently showing in cinemas.