Saturday, May 25, 2024

“Katarsis pushes limits, explores thrills, divides audience.”

A Review of Randolph Zaini’s Web Miniseries, Katarsis – A Darkly Funny Thriller Adaptation

**This article contains mild spoilers**

March 30 marks National Film Day, an annual commemoration that left a bittersweet note for local audiences and filmmakers this year. If we count the age of the Indonesian film industry from the day when Usmar Ismail’s 1950 film Darah dan Doa (Blood and Prayer) began production, it means that the creative, storytelling landscape has taken shape in this country for over 73 years now. Unfortunately, even after seven decades, one unceasing issue persists: the stalemate of genre variety.

There have been many arguments and observations explaining why, even in this 21st century, Indonesian filmmakers would oftentimes steer themselves (or, in some cases, be steered away) toward either the jump-scare or the schmaltzy. One particular argument that has been vocalized is that those are the genres that commercially resonate with local cinephiles. Luckily, sometimes filmmakers like Randolph Zaini would show up to make their case against such a notion.

A Macabre Story of Murder and Farce

After his critically-acclaimed debut feature film, the 2023 Preman, Randolph Zaini decided to choose Katarsis (Catharsis) as his debut in the web miniseries vista. An adaptation of the thriller novel of the same name by Anastasia Aemilia, the USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate seems more than ready to stir the status-quo pot, especially when Katarsis was first teased as a macabre story of murder and farce. The vision is there, but is the result as remarkable as what one would imagine?

Premiering on Indonesia-based streaming platform Vidio on Feb. 16, Katarsis is an eight-episode miniseries, all episodes co-written and directed by Randolph Zaini himself, with an all-star ensemble comprising the likes of Pevita Pearce (Sri Asih), Revaldo (30 Hari Mencari Cinta), Shareefa Daanish (Rumah Dara) and Citra Award winners Prisia Nasution (Sang Penari), Teuku Rifnu Wikana (Night Bus) and Slamet Rahardjo Djarot (Di Balik Kelambu). The final episode aired on March 23.

Unraveling the Depth of Dark Secrets and Psychological Wounds

Katarsis opens with a discovery of a brutally murdered couple (Shareefa Daanish and Teuku Rifnu Wikana) in their home, while their young-adult stepdaughter Tara Johandi (Pevita Pearce) lies unconscious inside a chest, soaked in blood. The media assumes that the murder marks the return of a notorious serial killer whose moniker is the Deadly Chest Killer (Slamet Rahardjo Djarot), his identity still unknown and his existence at large. Meanwhile, a sympathetic psychiatrist (Malaysian actor Bront Palarae, also starring in the Indonesian 2016 comedy film My Stupid Boss) diagnoses Tara as a traumatized victim.

Sensing a gaffe, a police investigator Jenny Gideon (Prisia Nasution) believes that Tara, now behaving childlike, knows more than what the latter is willing to disclose. Marcello Ponti (Revaldo), a shifty realtor who harbors a connection to the Deadly Chest Killer, finds himself romantically drawn to Tara, especially as the latter further displays a darker personality that is in contrast to her trauma-informed guilelessness. Their courtship soon turns passionate and, horrifyingly, murderous.

As the story progresses, Katarsis reveals how Tara is not the only one dealing with dark secrets and psychological wounds. All the suppressed trauma and truths unravel one by one, including Tara’s upbringing under her foster parents’ care before the murder. As more dead bodies continue to pile up, Jenny grows more restless to find out whether Tara is a victim or something else.

A Head-Spinning Joyride

While feature films might still be perceived as the most ideal storytelling platform by local creative talents, Randolph Zaini and his producers made the right call by adapting Katarsis as a miniseries. As the story presents various characters, each of whom bears a rich background and fascinating flaws to be further examined, the eight one-hour episodes that make up Katarsis allow the much-needed room for all characters to breathe and shine, which subsequently allows the audience to understand how Pevita Pearce’s Tara is merely a product of her environment.

Moreover, thanks to appropriate screen time as well, the one-off characters, brought to life by seasoned veterans such as Ratu Felisha (Pengabdi Setan 2: Communion) and Mike Lucock (Kadet 1947), manage to appear as complex human beings instead of disposable plot devices.

The miniseries format also allows Randolph Zaini to showcase more of his directing chops, something that he seemed unable to flex more broadly in his directorial debut Preman. With Katarsis, Randolph Zaini proves that his vision of a macabre spectacle is more than a flight of fancy. He also proves that, if and when a certain project demands it, he is well-equipped enough to helm a musical.

The fourth episode, arguably the best of Katarsis, packs up an abundance of everything that makes the miniseries a head-spinning joyride: comedy, drama, wit, gore, even sex, without appearing either overreaching or flummoxing. The episode’s very brief, yet very knee-slapping allusion to Indonesian films such as Marlina, the Murderer in Four Acts and Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku is not something that might even cross the minds of the more experienced comedy writer.

Good Vision – Awkward Execution

Unfortunately, Randolph Zaini and his co-writer Husein M. Atmodjo seem to be the only ones who could fathom and manifest the comedy within the tragedy. Pevita Pearce gives her all as both the series’s lead and the center of every arc. However, whenever the screenplay calls her to be dry-witted and demented at the same time, she could not help but ooze awkwardness and uncertainty.

Revaldo’s character proves to be integral all the way to the finale, but as the story reaches its galore conclusions, it is hard not to wonder whether other actors might have delivered a better layered, perhaps more potent interpretation of the slimy, obsessive Marcello. The actor’s commitment, especially during the series’s most absurd moments, is commendable, but his every monologue feels more like a dramatic reading than an emotionally manipulative tenet coming from the mouth of a hollowed human being.

The other actors, to boot, do not provide necessary support for the already awkward leads. Tara’s parents are revealed to be more than just a pair of homicide victims, but it is as if the two actors in charge were in two different projects. Shareefa Daanish comes across as too ghoulish for a psychological thriller, whereas Teuku Rifnu Wikana’s foreboding charm suits better for a kitchen-sink drama than a whodunit mystery. Prisia Nasution fares better, though, in hindsight, an overworked cop is an easier role to tackle than an orphan on the verge of madness.

Still, Randolph Zaini should owe a great deal of gratitude to Slamet Rahardjo Djarot who, perhaps unexpectedly, seems to be the only actor game enough to play against type and embrace the director’s offbeat vision. The veteran actor deftly infuses calm, wit, and terror into his serial killer, both in a more dramatic moment or in smaller, more unassuming bits. Macabre is not necessarily equivalent to a campy free-for-all, and unlike the rest of the ensemble, Slamet Rahardjo Djarot understands that.

Katarsis is available on Vidio streaming platform.

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About Eira Davis

Get ready to delve into the unknown with Eira Davis, our esteemed author who specializes in offbeat topics. Eira's captivating posts will take you on a journey to the far reaches of the uncharted territories of the universe. With her insatiable curiosity and passion for exploring the unknown, Eira offers valuable insights and intriguing stories that will leave you wondering what other secrets are yet to be uncovered. Read her to discover the mysteries that lie beyond the realms of our everyday world!

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