Return to Pontianak (2001)


aka Voodoo Nightmare

Singapore. 2001.


Director/Screenplay – Djinn, Producers – Djinn, Juan Foo & Duncan Jepson, Photography – Minh Nguyen, Soundscape – Kazz, Special Effects – Thompson Ong, Creature Design – Chan Man Loon, Production Design – Shon Imagineering. Production Company – Shaw Brothers/Vacant Films


Hiep Thi Le (Charity Yamaguchi), Eleanor Lee (Uzi), Stephen Banks (Luc), Victor Khong (Raymond Koh), Fadali (Eye), Fadzlinda (Mystery Girl)


Charity, a Japanese-American student, arrives in Malaysia with a group of friends. They are intending to visit a remote village that Charity has dreamt about and believes she is drawn to. Accompanied by a native guide, they travel into the jungle but soon become lost. At a hut in the jungle, they see visions of a mysterious girl and watch as a man beats her. Something then starts killing people.

Return to Pontianak is a Singaporean film that was a modest hit at Asian film festivals in the West, before being given a sporadic arthouse release in early 2002. The influence of The Blair Witch Project (1999) is unmistakable. Both films feature a group of young people trekking into the woods/jungle who become lost and are then targeted by a malevolent supernatural force. Like Blair Witch, Return to Pontianak has also been shot on video and transferred to 35mm film stock for release.

Return to Pontianak is also similar to The Blair Witch Project in that there is no particular explanation offered for the hauntings. Both are intended as films more of effect and never go much into the specifics of their backgrounds. In fact, Return to Pontianak does not even go so far as Blair Witch did in offering up any vague background explanations about witches and murders at all. Who or what is causing the heroine’s dreams is never explained. And it is left up until the very end title card to explain to us that a Pontianak is a woman who dies in childbirth or is a victim of a husband’s abuse and is held in thrall by a sorcerer. If you walk out early, there would be no explanation of who or what the ghost girl is.

Return to Pontianak works effectively. The atmosphere that director Djinn generates ranges between the occasionally amateurish – the badly edited scenes where Stephen Banks thinks a glass of water is filled with blood – and the effectively haunting – especially the eerie appearances of the girl with her intensive wild child stares, gliding through the trees. Djinn obtains a naturalism to the performances (although Stephen Banks’s accent sounds more Australian than it does British). The film has been made with an eye towards internationalism rather than for a local market as Asian films frequently tend to be – it is, for instance, filmed in English rather than Malay. The actors are cast for international diversity. The only recognizable face among these is Hiep Thi Le who played the Vietnamese wife in Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth (1993).

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