Mouly Surya / Indonesia, France, Malaysia, Thailand / 2017 / 93 mins
At Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 13 Apr 2018
A modern-day feminist Western revenge flick, Marlina the Murderer substitutes the spaghetti for satay and the plains of Italy for the barren beauty of rural Indonesia. As the title promises, over four acts our eponymous heroine (played with just the right dearth of emotion by Marsha Timothy) takes her vengeance on a band of repulsively macho brigands who’ve come to rape and pillage her homestead in the wake of her husband’s death. Marlina’s answer? Poisonous berries and the sharp end of a machete.
Each of the acts is separately segmented, dealing firstly with the initial unsolicited visit and a quick dispatch of most of the do-badders, including their head honcho (no pun intended). This is followed by a ramble towards town to both report and escape the remaining ruffians, an underwhelming interview with the local police force and a breathless denouement in which bloody conclusions and new beginnings come together neatly.
The action is slowed down to match its backdrop throughout; the plodding pace punctuated by outbursts of extreme violence mirrors the rugged landscapes and the patriarchal ennui of Marlina’s land. In one particularly revealing scene, Marlina’s harrowing plight is relegated to second fiddle behind a police ping pong match; in another, a pregnant woman is held responsible for the delayed delivery of her unborn sprog.
The message couldn’t be starker if it chopped your head off – men are a rotten lot and the time for a feminine revolution is now. This uncompromising polarisation of good and evil (there’s really only one or two male characters in the whole cast who emerge without being tarred with the Utter Bastard brush, while all the females are sympathetic) is a little simplistic, but the genre was never known for its nuances and Surya’s subversion of its classic tropes work well to get her point across.
Satisfying in its conclusion and rabble-rousing in its empowerment of the fairer sex, Marlina is slightly slow in its pacing and perhaps overly simplistic in its intentions, but a novel take on a well-trodden trope all the same.