A man wakes in a dark, stuffy space somewhere in the forest, and realizes that he has been buried alive. Disoriented and confused, he eventually escapes his grave and tries looking for a help. He finds a mobile phone in his pocket, but when he calls an emergency number, he finds that he’s also forgotten his name.
This scene opens “Modus Anomali,” a psychological thriller and the fourth film by writer and director Joko Anwar.
The film premiered at the prestigious South by Southwest film festival in March in Austin, Texas, and despite mixed reviews, a US distributor bought and will distribute the film.
“It’s a lo-fi film, small budget, small crew and cast,” Joko said.
“Modus Anomali” had a budget of Rp 4 billion ($435,000) and took just nine days to shoot. It was produced by Sheila “Lala” Timothy, who first worked with Joko on his third film, “Pintu Terlarang” (“The Forbidden Door”) in 2009.
“Modus Anomali” stars Rio Dewanto, who plays a man who goes on holiday with his family to a forest retreat. But Rio’s family disappears, and he must piece together what has happened. Rio finds alarm clocks that have been planted all over the forest, inferring that there is a race against time to find and save his family.
After a few minor roles in “Arisan 2,” “Pintu Terlarang” and “Tanda Tanya,” Rio finally earned the spotlight as the lead actor in “Modus.” The actor dominates the first half of the film, where he must run a small marathon through the woods.
“I had a lot of running sessions before shooting began,” Rio said. “You don’t want the shooting to have to stop just because you need to catch your breath.”
Rio said his role in “Modus” was definitely the most physically challenging of any part to date.
Former MTV VJ Hannah Al-Rashid plays a pregnant mother. The actress said she spent a month wearing a “baby bump” to physically adapt to playing the role of a pregnant woman.
“I was depressed because of the judgements from people around me when they found out I was pregnant,” said Hannah, who is not married.
“Modus” is presented in English with Indonesian subtitles. Some questioned Joko’s choice of language for the film (the actors have noticeable Indonesian accents as they say their lines), but the director insisted that language is merely a tool to tell a story.
“Jackie Chan can get away with his Chinese accent in Hollywood films. So can we,” Joko said.
At a press conference last Tuesday, Joko said he had been thinking about this project for some time. “Modus” began life as a short film, winning the Bucheon Award at the Network of Asian Fantastic Films in 2011. Encouraged by this success, Joko and producer Lala started shooting a feature-length film late last year.
Since it had such a low budget, Lala said they were careful to plan everything so the production was as efficient as possible.
“We couldn’t afford extra days, and we could only move locations up to three times a day,” she said.
Joko displayed his profound and budding talent with a deep exploration of a simple plot, creating a rewarding cinematic experience.
“Especially in a long sequence, I want the camera to respond to Rio and — vice versa — Rio to respond to the camera,” Joko said.
Cinematographer Gunnar “Unay” Nimpuno said he had to spend some time practicing with Rio to synchronize his camera with the actor’s movements.
“I have to say that the use of cameras in ‘Modus’ is experimental, and it’s quite challenging in terms of lens, angle and lighting,” Unay said.
The sound design for “Modus Anomali” is unique, and a critical component to the film’s suspenseful tone. Music director Aghi Narottama worked with Bemby Gusti and Ramondo Gascaro to create unusual sounds. According to Joko, the engineers even recorded the sound of a coffee machine and a toilet.
“They also measured the distance between Rio and the camera to make sure they got the volume right,” Lala said.
Aside from casting established actors, like Surya Saputra and Marsha Timothy, Joko also gave a chance to a few new actors such as Sadha Triyudha and Izzi Isman, whom he found through Twitter and Facebook.
There is also Aridh Tritama, a young boy who Joko met near his office only a week before shooting began, and Jose Gamo, whom Joko met during a school theater rehearsal.
“Modus Anomali” opens on Thursday in Cinema 21 and Blitzmegaplex.
For his next project, Joko plans to direct a short film in an omnibus project with several foreign directors.