Review: ‘Dancing Village: The Curse Begins,’ starring Aulia Sarah, Maudy Effrosina, Jourdy Pranata, Moh. Iqbal Sulaiman, Ardit Erwandha, Claresta Taufan, Diding Boneng and Aming Sugandhi

May 7, 2024

by Carla Hay

Claresta Taufan, Aulia Sarah and Maudy Effrosina in “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Dancing Village: The Curse Begins”

Directed by Kimo Stamboel

Indonesian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Indonesia in 1980 (with some flashbacks to 1955), the horror film “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” (based on the novel “KKN di Desa Penari” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman goes with three male companions to a village, in order to return a mysterious bangle and break an apparent curse on her mother, and they encounter an evil witch who uses dancing as part of her rituals. 

Culture Audience: “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching supernatural horror movies that have many effective jump scares and some unsettling images.

Moh. Iqbal Sulaiman, Jourdy Pranata, Maudy Effrosina and Ardit Erwandha in “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

With artful cinematography and a foreboding music score, the horror movie “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” excels in immersing viewers in a sinister forest atmosphere where the terror takes place. It’s a memorable story about an evil ghost witch and generational curses. Although it’s a well-worn concept for a horror movie to be about a witch who curses people, “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” has some truly striking visuals and unique scenes that make this film slightly better than the average horror movie.

Directed by Kimo Stamboel and written by Lele Laila, “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” is based on the SimpleMan’s 2019 novel “KKN di Desa Penari,” which was made into director Awi Suryadi’s 2022 movie of the same name. “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” is a prequel to the movie “KKN di Desa Penari.” The movie takes place mostly in a remote area of East Java, Indonesia, in 1980, with some flashbacks to 1955.

The opening scene of “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” takes place in 1955, in the easternmost point of East Java. In a forest area, where a mysterious community called Dancing Village is located, there are several women dancers who are gathered in traditional sarongs. A woman is seen chanting, “To the ruler of the forest, to the ruler of this place, I present dancers for you to choose.”

A young woman, whose name is later revealed as Inggri (played by Princeza Leticia), is given a box containing an arm bangle that is the shape of a snake. The bangle, which is called Kawaturih, is supposed to be a gift for a witch ghost named Badarawuhi (played by Aulia Sarah), who has seductive mannerisms that she uses to enchant people. Badarawuhi forces the Dancing Village to go through a ritual where she chooses which of the dancers will be demonically possessed and sacrificed.

Badarawuhi also expects gifts from the villagers. The Kawaturih bangle is supposed to have special powers for Badarawuhi. Things don’t go according to Badarawuhi’s plans. Inggri’s mother tells Inggri to take the Kawaturih bangle in the box and run far away. A terrified Inggri runs through the forest, with several of the possessed villagers giving chase. What happens to Inggri is revealed later in the movie.

“Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” then fast-forwards to 1980. An introverted young woman named Mila (played by Maudy Effrosina) is distraught because her ailing, single mother Inggri (played by Maryam Supraba) appears to be dying. Inggri appears to be nearly comatose with a “possssed” look in her eyes. Mali and Inggri She consults with a local shaman and shows him a box with the snake bangle.

Also inside the box is an illustration that shows the entrance to Dancing Village. The shaman becomes very alarmed and tells Mila that she must go to Dancing Village to return the bangle because the bangle is considered stolen, and Inggri has been cursed. The shaman explains that returning the bangle to its rightful owner is the only chance that Inggri can have the curse lifted and physically recover from her mysterious illness.

Mali travels to the village with three male companions: her cousin Yuda (played by Jourdy Pranata), who thinks he’s the “alpha male” of the group; mild-mannered Arya (played by Ardit Erwandha); and goofy Jito (played by Moh. Iqbal Sulaiman, also known as M. Iqbal Sulaiman), who is sometimes the movie’s comic relief. Jito has a car that they use for the trip, but the car breaks down, and the four travelers have to walk the rest of the way.

It’s also a convenient plot device for this horror movie because no one in this rural village has a car. Therefore, Mali, Yuda, Arya and Jito are stuck in the forest with no means of transportation. The only way they can leave is by walking a very long distance. And this story takes place during a time mobile phone usage in this part of Indonesia did not exist.

Upon arriving in the nearest village, the four travelers ask about Dancing Village, which is considered a very secretive community deep in the forest. There are no hotels or motels in this village where the four travelers stay, so Yuda, Arya and Jito sleep at a carport. A local young woman named Ratih (played by Claresta Taufan Kusumarina, also known as Claresta Taufan) generously gives Mali a place to temporarily stay during the visit.

When the four companions arrive at the village, they find out that the village’s leader Putri has recently died. A shaman named Mbah Buyut , also known as Buyut (played by Diding Boneng) is the interim leader of the village. Buyut is away for a few days when the four travelers arrive at the village, but when Buyut returns to the village, he has a lot of valuable information to share.

While Mali stays at Ratih’s place, Mali finds out that Ratih also lives with a single mother, who seems to have the exact same ailment as Mali’s mother Inggri. Ratih’s mother Jiyanti (played by Dinda Kanyadewi) is bedridden and looks “possessed,” just like Inggri. Almost as soon as Mali begins staying Rathi’s home, Mali begin seeing strange things. In one incident, Mali is in a swimming pool when it’s suddenly filled with snakes, and Mali is plunged underwater by a mysterious force.

Mali also begins to see visions of Badarawuhi, who speaks to her. However, Yuda, Arya and Jito are skeptical that all of this is really happening to Mali. A teenage boy in the village named Prabu (played by Bimasena) tells them that Buyut can turn into a dog. Yuda is especially skeptical about these supernatural tales.

“Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” is not a horror movie with non-stop action. The jump scares are effective but don’t happen frequently. Instead, the scenes of the rituals, including the tribal dancing, are bone-chilling and sometimes macabre. In addition to the cinematography by Patrick Tashadian and music score by Ricky Lionardi, the movie’s sound design is top-notch in delivering moments that increase the tension and suspense.

As expected, secrets are revealed that answer a lot of questions in the story. Perhaps the weakest part of “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” is that a lot of the acting is mediocre, although Effrosina and Sarah stand out from the rest of the cast because of their roles as “chief protagonist” and “chief antagonist.” The origins of Badarawuhi could have used better explanation in the movie. Even with these flaws, “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” is worth watching for people who want to see an intriguing horror film that leaves a lasting impression.

Lionsgate released “Dancing Village: The Curse Begins” on April 26, 2024.

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