Saturday, December 10, 2016

Review: Desolasi

Coming at the heels of Apprentice, Hanyut and Interchange, Desolasi didn't seem like it could gain any attention or acclaim from the more urban crowd.

However, the urban crowd and film buffs would ignore or write off this flick at their own peril. Because despite all its problems - and Desolasi has many - this film firmly cements Syafiq Yusof's credibility as a filmmaker, if his earlier movies haven't already.

We'll get to that soon enough. First, the synopsis.

Time Enough at Last

Desolasi tells of a man in descent. Syamsul Yusof plays Aiman, who was born with a mysterious illness that was not explained at the beginning of the movie. He was abused by his father, and his life went down a spiral of despair.

He often prays to God to take all his problems away, asking, "Why me? Why me?".

 One day, he wakes up and finds that he is alone in the world. The whole of KL was empty. Petaling Street, Batu Caves, everywhere Aiman could reach on his motorcycle was devoid of humans.

This was the mystery box - why is he there? What happened? Is it fantasy? A morality fable? Sci fi? A tumor in his brain was my very first guess.

The concept is similar to a Twilight Zone episode - Time Enough at Last in 1959. It's like how Interchange draws from the same vein that inspired another Twilight Zone episode, Still Life.

Unfortunately, the story was not revealed in this linear fashion. It was told in medias res - it starts in the middle. Then we have flashbacks to his birth, and then intercuts between the world with no people and flashbacks to what got Aiman to this world.

A Sermon in Thunder

The main problem I have with the movie, and I'm sure most of my friends would experience the same challenge - is the amount of preaching done throughout the movie.

The first five minutes alone was an indicator to the rest of the movie as Aiman narrates about how humanity is devoured by greed and how we have lost touch with God and prayer.

This is consistent throughout the movie, so if you want to watch it and don't like being preached at, you would need to learn to filter all the preachiness, which is a large part of the movie.

I, for one, do not appreciate any form of religious message anywhere, so I assumed the preaching was not for me.

If you get rid of all that, or if you can tune them out altogether, what remains is pretty good.

12 Angry Men

Aiman demonstrates mostly only two emotions - angry and angrier. This is almost his entire character, but he does it well.

Aiman's confrontations with his father are delightfully visceral and realistic. It is like the villain Keting from the Bohsia movies demonstrating his anger towards an imam in front of the mosque.

Any scenes with anger in this movie feels heightened, sometimes cartoonish, perhaps, but in a good way.

His descent into despair and the fury that he internalises are delightfully portrayed with cuts to what he really thinks versus what's happening in real life.

In fact, this entire movie, and perhaps Skop Productions' offerings in the past 10 years could be summed up with the phrase, "Nah, ambik ko!" and then pressing the face of the audience onto whatever is on screen  - boobs, cars, guns, special effects or even religious messaging.

The amount of derivative special effects shots and scenes in this movie is astounding, with no clear cohesion of styles. They had a spaceship, some fish, a fucking dinosaur, Skop Productions stock machine gun effects, and some that look like they were lifted from commercials.

It's as if they just raided the final year projects of students of a multimedia college somewhere and plonked in as many as they could into Desolasi.

It is vulgar, but a vulgarity done in earnest. It's a very vulgar and angry movie - something only young filmmakers are capable of doing.

The anger that we see in Aiman is perhaps compensating for something. The need to fortify yourself or your ego with enough audacity before doing anything artistic can be masked well with anger or other things such as arrogance.

Mystery Box

Anyway, back to the story.

Aside from Aiman berating his father, the thing I enjoyed most watching this movie was guessing where did all the people go?

The movie did a wonderful job keeping me guessing, because I can't dismiss anything. The filmmakers displayed that they were willing to do shit and take the story to parts unknown, and tell whatever fuck kind of story that suits their fancy, with no apologies and I couldn't predict what the was going to happen next.

Nevertheless, I had my theories for the disappearance of everyone and here they are, almost chronologically, while watching the movie:

1. Cancer. Brain tumor.

2. Fable. God REALLY did send him to a world with no one in it.

3. Alternate universe

4. He's part of an experiment.

5. The Matrix

6. Vanilla Sky

7. Sony trying to come up with the next gen VR console and Aiman is roped in to create angry AI, for the boss fights.

Yeah. It's like that.

The answer is, surprisingly, a little bit of everything on the list. It is as silly and dumb as anything Damon Lindelof has ever done. If you hate Damon Lindelof, you will probably hate this as well.

Narrative Momentum 

Filmmakers use visuals and dialogue to move the story forward. Using only dialogues is the weaker technique, unless you have really great lines.

Desolasi doesn't really rely on dialogue but each scene carries a kinetic energy that drives itself forward, no matter how silly everything is.

It helps that the filmmakers have balls to do this story, at the risk of alienating their own fanbase and/or receiving ridicule from the more 'cultured' KLites.


Syamsul Yusof has absolutely dreadful taste in clothes. Everything must have their brands or logos extra large and plastered in front. I think if Ralph Lauren designed a flag with his logo on it, Syamsul would be the first to buy and wave it around.

Also, for some reason, some people hate Syamsul Yusof just for being Syamsul Yusof. Maybe he rubs people the wrong way or there is retribution in effect - I don't know.

I do believe casting an unknown would have been better for the movie.

I also would much prefer if the story had been told in a classic linear fashion, because some of the most interesting parts of the movie is what Aiman does as he discovers that the world is devoid of people.


In the end, Desolasi is messy, preachy, silly and sometimes dumb. Despite all this, and because of its audacity, honesty and earnestness in crafting, it didn't annoy me at all. I can overlook the preachiness and the silliness and the oversized logos because in some moments, Desolasi was fun. It looked like the filmmakers also had fun doing it and that translates better than anything, usually.