Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Like Kill Bill, only rural … and lame

I t’s a good bet Marlina didn’t start the movie thinking, “I’m going to kill a bunch of guys.” It is indeed possible, almost likely, this newly widowed rural farmwoman hadn’t planned on killing a guy for at least a week or two. But, you know, when a nasty dude comes to your farm, decides to take all your livestock and gang rape you to boot and you better have dinner on the table when his buds arrive, well, is it any surprise that Marlina stepped up her plans?

The rural 600 sq. ft. home of Marlina (Marsha Timothy — well there’s an Indonesian name if I ever heard one) seems modest, yet hasn’t gone unnoticed by the villains of the community. Were they aware that she had grandma stuffed and mounted in the corner of the living room?  They’re aware now. Our heroine lost her husband recently. I’m guessing his corpse is currently at the taxidermist. The loss serves as a tragedy on so many levels here, they’re hard to count. The film highlights a few of them which include security of future, security of assets, security of person, security of … well, let’s face it, she’s not only lost her man, she’s lost the ability to protect anything they shared, including her body. One almost has to appreciate the criminal so bold that he’ll invite himself in, look around, and say: “I see no one’s workin’ the door. Tell you what: my boys are gonna come over in a bit. We’re going to take everything you own and rape you. And you better serve us dinner beforehand, dig?” It’s all matter-of-fact. This is the way it is. Marlina isn’t even allowed the dignity of verbal objection. It’s nothing more than, “You can’t do anything to stop this, so I’m giving you the courtesy of a program for the evening.”

Act I ends with five dead men in Marlina’s house – four poisoned and the leader decapitated. I was still with the movie at this point. After all, this is exactly what we wanted to see. Well, except for the part where she doesn’t stuff them in the corner with grandma. One token doesn’t get left in the house – the severed head of the leader. Marlina needs to “take it to the police.” Why?

Perhaps nothing in the world is as sad as the deterioration of a good film. I wasn’t wild about Act I. It was slow and hard to get into – I’m used to my heroines being a bit more verbal when gang rape is on the table. But it ended as it should and Marlina had me in her corner. And, yet, over the following three acts, she lost me. I think I might get the severed head as a trophy or a warning, but it serves as neither. Instead, it becomes an albatross, a reminder of the unspeakable crimes Marlina was forced to commit and a beacon for the remainder of the gang. The movie acts as functional black comedy – not unlike Kill Bill – but briefly and without conviction. There is a sick humor in boarding the public bus while openly displaying evidence of murder; it should, however, be followed with conviction by our heroine, not remorse or regret. Stop. Think. Mouly Surya: why does Marlina carry with her a severed head? What is the true intention of this act? If I can’t answer this question, I just chalk it up to “something Indonesian I don’t understand.” As a director, that can’t possibly be your intent, can it?

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is living proof that you can take the fun out of anything. What should have been a sweet tale of slaughter vengeance gets bogged down by the necessity of having to understand our heroine and live her journey. Look, Ms. Surya, we don’t need to live Marlina’s journey; all we really need is 1) the horror 2) the pain 3) the revenge. We were sold on her as a sympathetic character the minute the would-be rapist slimeball insisted on being treated as a guest. But in making us watch Marlina cart the dude’s severed head around, I became less sympathetic – which should have been next to impossible. From my POV, this was a film that reached out to an audience, grabbed them, and then ignored them for the rest of the film.

♪I’ve never seen you looking so ragged as you did tonight
I’ve never seen you full of spite
I’ve never seen so many men “ask” you if you wanted to play
They’re looking for an easy lay, until you had them done away
And I’ve never seen that knife you’re bearing
Or the bloodstreak in your hair from stabbing eyes
You made them blind

The lady with head is roving the road, tree to tree
There’s nobody there, it’s just head and she
Nowhere she wants to be
And I hardly know what drove her deep inside
I’ll never forget how many jerks just died♫

Not Rated, 90 Minutes
Director: Mouly Surya
Writer: Rama Adi, Garin Nugroho, Mouly Surya
Genre: Bad news
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Women forced into sexual politics
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: Roy Moore

♪ Parody Inspired by “The Lady in Red♫

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