Monday, August 20, 2012

Ratu Buaya Putih, aka White Crocodile Queen (Indonesia, 1988)

Ratu Buaya Putih begins with a woman giving birth to a crocodile, followed by a human baby. Welcome to Indonesian cinema, newcomers! Today you’re in good hands, as not only do we have Suzzanna in front of the camera, but H. Djut “Lady Terminator” Djalil behind it. Furthermore, Sisworo Gautama Putra, director of many of Suzzanna’s most iconic hits, is credited as “Supervising Director” and just may have contributed the story under his pseudonym Naryono Paraytino. Granted, the story credit is to simply “Naryono”, so I’m not going to up and marry that assertion. Though given the similarities between this film and some of Putra’s and Suzzanna’s previous collaborations, it seems a strong possibility.

Suzzanna’s titular role here seems to be in essence a reprise of her turn as the Snake Queen in Putra’s earlier Nyi Blorong. She exudes both the same authoritative menace and disquieting regal calm -- which, if you’re familiar with Suzzanna’s work, is something she was clearly born to do. It also has to be said that she here sports a truly awesome crocodile-themed subaquatic lair and ornate crocodile carriage, not to mention an amazing wardrobe. The supernatural havoc that she wreaks upon the mortal world may not be pretty (note: maggots!), but it can’t be said that she doesn’t do it in style.

In classic Suzzanna tradition, Ratu Buaya Putih is a tale of revenge from the spirit world, wrought upon deserving humans for transgressions committed in our own realm. In this case the target is Sumarna (Soendjoto Adibroto), a crocodile hunter who, in the film’s prologue, is shown murdering the Crocodile Queen’s parents in order to steal a magic amulet that gives him special powers over said beasts. The Queen’s retribution focuses at first on Sumarna’s offspring, first by literally feeding his mullet sporting teenage son to the crocs and then, in an especially nasty touch, by tricking him into a scenario in which he kills his own preteen son himself.

The Queen also has a human sister, Larsih, who lives among the people of Sumarna’s village, and whose participation in the mayhem seems to be done largely under protest. This setup affords Suzzanna a nice double role, and also allows her to portray the tragic aspect so often seen in her cursed heroines, such as those in Putra’s Sundel Bolong and its sequel Malam Satu Suro. Larsih can’t help that she shared a womb with a crocodile, but her psychic bond with the Queen seems to nonetheless doom her to complicity in her actions. Her resulting suffering is portrayed by Suzzanna with the usual noble stoicism, once again demonstrating the actress’s ability to bring dignity to even the most outlandish part.

As Ratu Buaya Putih is as much a fantasy as it is a horror film, it provides a lot more in terms of uncanny mood than it does outright scares. Thankfully, that does not mean that it won’t satisfy seasoned fans of Indonesian pop cinema -- and especially those familiar with the work of director Djalil -- by virtue of being really fun and gross. As indicated above, there are indeed blood and maggots on hand, as well as an Exorcist inspired scene featuring a twirling bed effect that is quite handily accomplished (kudos to special effects director Herman Suherman). And, just as you would hope, things are ultimately resolved in a magic battle that sees Suzzanna projecting exploding orbs and Soendjoto Adibroto pretending to wrestle with a series of rubbery prosthetic crocodiles.

Still, coming late in the cycle of Suzzanna and Putra’s collaborations, Ratu Buaya Putih feels fairly minor compared to defining efforts like Sundel Bolong and Nyi Blorong, largely coasting on tropes and archetypes established and subsequently familiarized by those films and others like them. Nonetheless, I suspect that most viewers will find such elements more warmly familiar than stale. One need only witness Suzzanna’s execution of her trademark soul paralyzing stare to see that her commitment was far from flagging at this point. Who are we not to meet her in like spirit?

No comments: