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Malaysian Oscar hopes rest on low-budget horror film

Supernatural focus reflects trend in Southeast Asian literature and cinema

A detail of the cinematic release poster for "Roh." Completed in 2019, the film did not debut in Malaysian cinemas until August 2020 after they were re-opened following COVID-19-related closures. (Courtesy of Kuman Pictures)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Imagine you are living alone in a forest with your two children, surrounded by nothing but a looming wall of vegetation, with no other humans in sight. One day, as your family goes about its daily chores, a small girl caked in mud and what seems like coagulated blood makes a sudden appearance at your door. No matter how much you try to help her, she will not speak. When she finally does, her curse chills your blood. "You will all die before the next moon," she says in a demonic voice.

This is the premise of the low-budget supernatural horror movie "Roh" ("Soul"), the 2019 debut of the Malaysian filmmaker Emir Ezwan. The film is loosely based on Kaneto Shindo's "Onibaba" ("Demon Hag"), a 1964 Japanese film about two ghoulish women who hide in a swamp during a feudal war and scavenge the bodies of all the passing soldiers they can kill.

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