Starring Nabila Huda, Bella Dowanna, Faizal Hussein, Kodi Rasheed, Amanda Hariz
Directed by Eyra Rahman
Throughout M4M4 (or Mama, but spelled like a Korean pop group), this slow-cooking revenge drama from Malaysia, the burning question is this — Doesn't Islam tell one to forgive even when faced with a most heinous crime?
A teenage girl gets raped and killed and her mum goes zonked-out mad as the avenging angel of death. I'm talking about glassy-eyed, not-all-there, a-bit-too-exaggerated zonked out as in a sudden personality sea change. Which is understandable because here in female director Eyra Rahman's (Badi, Kelibat) watchable, controversial, quite TV-ish and fairly uncomfy film due to its stark portrayal of a brutal sexual attack, devotion is the counterpoint to evil.
Mother and daughter are so hopelessly devoted to each other they’re more like inseparable twins. Hell hath known no fury like a woman losing her only child because the pair says ominous things like “What would you do if I'm gone?” and “I have only mama and she only has me”. Which is basically lovey-dovey signals leading up to a predictable crunch time. While mama is buying a birthday cake for her sweet-16 girl, her handphone left in the car logs up very urgent unanswered calls for help right now.
In case you’re watching this flick on a full stomach, one baddie gets his belly carved up harakiri-style while hanging upside down. But it sorta happens off-camera, so this isn't really The Klang Hills Have Eyes.
Still, though, the avenger here is unlikely, unusual and a bit unhinged. She's a widowed single mum named Aini (Nabila Huda) who looks so average and nondescript as an otherwise ordinary middle-aged resident of small-town Klang.
At first, Aini doesn't feature as somebody insanely deadly who's lurking in the shadows in a biker outfit with a hoodie looking like Bruce Willis, the punisher from Unbreakable. I mean, without any secret ninja skills, CIA training or a Weapons R Us membership card, Mummy Dearest, pushed to the brink in pining for her dead beloved, goes full-on pissed-off terminator ala Jennifer Garner in Peppermint. But you could still be sitting right next to her in a MRT train and not know this.
So, for a good part of this languidly paced show, you actually think that this story is about her ill-fated schoolgirl-daughter, Aliya (Bella Dowanna), since so much time is spent patiently building up her story. I really thought this could be a mother-daughter Birds Of Prey payback combo given the way the plot throws a curveball which I won't disclose like a killjoy for my own personal safety.
Anyway, the junior gal has it all. It’s her special day and she's out with her two best friends at a sarabat stall in a back alley. When three local motorcycle punks accost them, she feistily stands her ground as she scalds the arm of the most vicious attacker, Apai, the chicken butcher (the moody, scary Kodi Rasheed).
Unfortunately, this fightback leads to utter peril later when Aliya gets cornered while being chased relentlessly by the bikers into a sewer tunnel in a very effective but unsettling scene. “You made us look like fools,” the predators taunt her as all hope fades away.
Now, I won't give the plot away but there's more to it than meets the eye in M4M4 with an unexpected villain revealed right at the end. It's both good and superfluous at the same time because director Rahman is a prolific filmmaker in Malaysia who's helmed horror flicks before. She can't resist sprinkling otherworldly elements here and there —ghostly apparitions pop up and a spooky instant camera gets ripped off from Thai chiller Shutter — which look incongruous and confusing within the strictly worldly set-up depicted here.
But man, the convincing young actress playing Aliya — Dowanna — can put in a legitimate claim for gross overtime because there's a rape scene that's so prolonged and uncomfortable to watch you actually feel guilty seeing it. “Mama, please help me ... I want to go home,” the poor girl begs in disturbing dire distress as the beastly boys trap her in an abandoned old house.
You want to climb into the screen to rescue her which is exactly how this movie wants you to feel so that it can transcend its forgiveness angle and justify its unbridled vengeance. It works because one — the bad guys in M4M4 really sell it. Apai and his two junkie-pals —Niezam Zaidi as psychotic Remy and Ungku Hariz as reluctant Luk — are so good at being cruel bastards you wouldn't wish to bump into them in any alley, street or road. “You're a wolf, that's your feast,” Apai orders the hesitant Luk to seriously harm their captured prey.
And two — this tale really captures a palpable sense of no recourse to turn to as the cops aren't too bright or helpful. Plus here's the kicker — the small-town mentality is so stifling and inescapable that poor Aliya gets attacked not once but twice when she tries to get her assailants to delete the rape video. I couldn't believe this assault redo until I noticed that the neighbourhood is so insular that evil Apai keeps chopping chicken in the only stall that's open in the entire market.
The most challenging role here is, of course, the main one itself. Overshadowed by more colourful characters, Huda's bland Aini doesn't quite cut it as the avenging mum because you'd think it's impossible.
But it's great to see her severely conflicted though. In the movie's pivotal faith-affirming scene, a wise friend tries to contain the rage in her by explaining that her dearly departed daughter and everyone else on earth are simply a temporary bliss. “They don't belong to us, they belong to God,” he counsels.
Aini doesn't listen, of course. But it's the best reason I've ever heard for extreme anger management. In Malay with English subtitles. (***)
Photo: Cathay Cineplexes