There is nothing quite like hearing a scary story about a person and believing it as truth. Fear of the unknown has a funny way of manipulating a person’s perspective, and director Dain Said turns that very feeling into a powerful tool to tell the story of Dukun.
The film revolves around the sensational trial of Diana Dahlan (Datin Seri Umie Aida), a woman suspected of murdering a businessman (played by Adlin Aman Ramlie) in a gruesome way. Thanks to the “tales” spread about Diana – that she’s a seductive black magic practitioner who has a taste for human flesh – her trial receives widespread public attention.
Like a true celebrity, she has fans and haters. Those who believe in her supernatural abilities, turn up to support her. While some others – including witnesses testifying against her – are afraid of her after hearing these stories.
In a lot of ways, Dukun cleverly mirrors our penchant for sensationalism. It seems that people would rather have a conversation about an embellished story than face the facts. And, the truth of the matter is a man has died, and justice needs to be served.
Dain chooses to present Diana’s story by looking at it from two points of view – a police investigation into mangled dead bodies found in the city, conducted by Inspector Shah (Bront Palarae) and ASP Talib (Namron), as well as a court case with lawyer Karim (Faizal Hussein) defending Diana.
It is Karim who grounds Dukun initially with his set of logical questions to those testifying against Diana in court.
But as the story continues, Karim is soon in danger of losing himself to the dark side as well. You see, Karim is a broken man; he is desperately searching for his missing teenage daughter Nadia (Elyana) and will do anything to get her back. When Diana promises she can find her for him, Karim agrees to bring her whatever she wants.
His descent into madness is much more tragic than that of the businessman who met his death because of greed and for believing in black magic.
It’s a nice enough contrast which gives Dukun a balance of reality and supernatural.
Dukun owes its magic to the exceptional cast performances.
Umie is unforgettable as Diana; she elevates the scary and mythical aspects of Dukun with how far she commits in the role. When Diana goes into a trance in her prison cell, I logically think her crazy behaviour is to ward off others to leave her alone. It’s all just smoke and mirrors. Yet, I can’t help but be creeped out when I think about those eerie scenes.
Faizal is outstanding with his nuanced performance as Karim, a man grappling between his belief and emotional need to reconnect with a loved one.
Namron is a scene-stealer as a character who doesn’t have time for stupid questions, and in the process sheds some light with sarcastic humour on the film’s dark material.
However, Dukun does not live up to its hype. Filmed in 2007, it was said to be loosely based on the true story of the murder of a Malaysian politician by Mona Fandey. The film could’ve and should’ve been a gripping story as Mona’s case was talked about endlessly due to its supernatural elements and her widely-speculated profession as a bomoh.
But Dukun’s languid pacing mixed with how the story can’t tell its flashbacks-present time narrative seamlessly makes it a frustrating watch.
After waiting so long for the film to be released – it was shelved by Astro Shaw for 11 years without an official reason – Dukun is a perfect example of how stories can take its own form. Our expectation of Dukun as the years went by has cast a long shadow on the film that we can’t help but feel unfazed by the final product.
Overall, Dukun is a less-than-spellbinding affair.
Director: Dain Said
Cast: Datin Seri Umie Aida, Faizal Hussein, Namron, Bront Palarae, Hasnul Rahmat, Ramli Hassan, Chew Kin Wah, Soffi Jikan, Adlin Aman Ramlie, Elyana