Exiting the cinema after watching Interchange, I was overcome with intense anger. It has been a week and I have calmed down a lot.
This is me being personal: I was cheering for this movie. I wanted it to be good. Dain Said is my favourite Malaysian director for Bunohan, which I think is the best Malaysian movie ever made. So regardless how Interchange was going to turn out, I still consider him as number one.
At least until some other director makes a better movie than Bunohan, which, looking at some of the stuff that will come out, is not that far away.
I also know some personal friends who worked on the movie and I wanted to say nice things about their work.
Plus, 2016 has been a horrible year for a lot of people. The energy I have been sensing is mean-spirited and sometimes stupid or evil, which are basically the same things. I just needed to see some glimmer of hope, and I wanted Interchange - yes, a movie - to show me some hope.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths, Synopsis first. Synopsis first.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
(As if it makes any difference.)
Interchange is about a series of gruesome murders that leave the victims drained of blood, with their veins and arteries on the outside. There are puncture wounds on the bodies, and tribal beads or something beneath their eyelids, plus feathers of extinct birds at the scene of all the crimes.
Detektif Man (Shaheizy Sam) is investigating the murders in his suit, because this is not Malaysia, but a city called Metropolis without Superman, and he ropes in forensic photographer Adam (Iedil Putra).
For a murder mystery, there is only one group of suspects working together - Iva (Prisia Nasution) , Belian (Nicolas Saputra), Sani (Nadiya Nisaa) and a guy running a photo shop (Chew Kin Wah).
In short, I can say the movie is visually stunning. And nothing else.
There are some shots that are just splendid. One in particular had Adam (Iedil Putra) and Iva (Prisia Nasution) standing on the balconies of their apartments, facing each other. So close (just two elevator rides away) and yet so far. That's just brilliant work from Dain and cinematographer Jordan Wei.
Adam's introduction as he wakes up to a collage of photos he has been taking - all of the people 'trapped' in the modern birdcage that is urban living, the motif of bars and isolation to further reinforce the idea that these people are captive to something. It's just beautiful.
The neo-noir shots are good - the mood is all great and dark and whatever. The tribal stuff is cool. The locations made to look nothing like what they really are. All signs of expert handling of the camera.
There is really a lot of thought, care and effort put into these shots. I almost wish I had watched the movie with the sound muted.
Because everything else sucked. Like, really bad.
The Sound and the Fury
First up, the dialects. Was this supposed to be Sabah? Sarawak? Some weird amalgamation of the two states? Adam talks like a Sabahan with brain damage, which he could actually be. Detektif Man speaks KL BM. Iva and Nicolas Saputra sounds Indonesian, but maybe I'm biased.
Sani, though, sounded like she was channeling Siti Tanjung Perak. A most disconcerting inconsistency of dialects.
The characters are not characters - they are symbols. They don't talk like normal humans, they don't really move like you or me and the acting was stilted and awkward with no chemistry whatsoever. The dialogue was horrible simply because they are not what human characters would say and don't say things how humans would say it. They mouth off these lines because they are merely symbols - puppets for a concept.
This is crucial because halfway through the movie, I couldn't care less if all of them were attacked by Alfred Hitchcock's birds from The Birds or Big Bird from Sesame Street. When the audience can't empathise with the characters - because they are not human - then there's a big problem IF you want people to care about the stakes and the story.
Staking the Plot
Which I suspect the film doesn't want you to. Because there are no stakes whatsoever. And there isn't much of a story. There are so many holes in the plot, it hinders any suspension of disbelief. In fact, the suspension of disbelief was more on how could it be this nonsensical?
There was a scene when Adam first went into the evidence room of Metropolis PD. He just went in and flipped a few boxes over, until the lone security person who was manning the place came back and told him to knock it off.
Really? A police evidence room less guarded than my old high school library? Seriously? I had to do some Jason Bourne shit to steal books from my high school library. Even made some oversized pockets for my bespoke pants early in the year.
Anyway, consider this evidence room scene with the documents room scene in Apprentice. In Apprentice, you feel the fear of being caught, the claustrophobia and whatever intense emotion enclosed in just a tiny space. In Interchange, it was like "what the fuck are these boxes doing here, man?" And Adam did those things with no repercussion.
There are so many things that don't make sense, and it's not just a man turning into a bird like in Manimal.
The reveal was that the 'victims' of these murders were tribal people whose photos were taken by some white dudes. Because they believe that their souls are captured, their souls REALLY are captured in the photo plates and they become immortals.
And after a mere century, they are all emo tribal goths trying to end their lives because life is so unbearable. Really? After a measly 100 years? There are people today who have lived over 100 years. If you ask them today, would they want to die, I predict most would say no.
If it was 1,000 years, then yes, I believe that is plausible but then there would be no cameras back then. But I don't want to live that long anyway, so yeah, let's give that the benefit of the doubt.
And then, if you REALLY wanted to ensure your ritualistic suicide is not interrupted by, say, the police, you can just gather everyone in a warehouse or a secluded retreat and kill everyone, one by one.
Adam was roped in by a femme fatale (Iva) for absolutely no reason. Detektif Man, and Shaheizy Sam gave the most believable performance, also at one point said, "You can take anyone else, but not Adam!"
No relationship that would prompt such an outburst so close to the 'climax' was ever hinted at. Was it homosexual? Pedagogical? Financial, maybe? I dunno, man. Seems weird.
I was half-expecting Detektif Man (for mankind, maybe? How the normal man can't possibly fathom the intricate symbolism of these characters) to turn into a tiger and reveal Adam is the Chosen One who could kill immortals like him.
And then we'd have a Birdman vs Were-tiger thing in our hands and I would watch the shit out of that movie.
Some scenes are seared into my brain. Like how Iva awkwardly dropped a tribal knife in front of Adam. It was made to be so deliberate, I just. I just can't. Running out of steam here.
Talking about steam... never mind. If you have too many plot holes, and all movies have them, the audience will stop focusing on the story and start picking on details. And there were so many to pick.
Iva had this thing about ice. She would chew on them, ask for them but NEVER ran the ice cubes down her body. What the fuck? Was she trying to be sensual? Signifying that she is so organic and passionate inside even though her outside demeanour could freeze your weekly groceries?
Then there's Belian. He's some sort of totem or God and his name seems to indicate him as either a diamond (in the rough?), or a dowry or some shit you buy.
In the end, the story of Interchange could have been about how we are all trapped in modernisation, colonialisation and whatnot, and the only way out is to let a birdman suck all your blood and take you to the skies. Perhaps the skies refer to lofty artistic ideals?
I am left disappointed with Interchange. But that's my fault. I had unrealistic expectations that it could never fulfill. I wanted it to be a movie and not an art-piece that by right should have been muted.