Dancing Village: The Curse Begins

Horror buffs need to pay attention to Dancing Village: The Curse Begins. Don’t be thrown off by the title card informing viewers that it’s a prequel to the 2022 Indonesian blockbuster KKN di Desa Penari. You don’t need to have seen that film to enjoy it. All that’s necessary is a passion for eerie atmosphere and twisted tales. Director Kimo Stamboel (Headshot) has made something really special.

Mila (Maudy Effrosina) comes into possession of a special bracelet that was whisked away from a remote village twenty-five years earlier. A mystical figure named Badarawuhi (Aulia Sarah) supposedly rules this village, where she periodically holds a ritual to choose a new “Dawuh,” a woman cursed to spend the rest of her life dancing. A shaman advises Mila to return the bracelet. Teaming with her cousin Yuda (Jourdy Pranata) and his two friends, Mila makes her way to Java Island, where she plans to consult with a local leader about how to approach the so-called “dancing village.” He’s away for an indeterminate period of time, leaving them to hang around until he returns. Badarawuhi lurks nearby, making her presence known to Mina.

How this scenario plays out cannot be predicted. One of the most effective scenes finds Mila being tormented by a vision of Badarawuhi while she soaks in a public bath. Her mother’s illness, which is clearly connected to the illness suffered by the mother of a village woman Mila befriends, seems to tie into the being’s desire to get her bracelet back. An extended third-act sequence involving the dancing ritual similarly proves unsettling, as the participants almost become possessed, collapsing onto the floor when they can no longer continue. Having a rural Indonesian village as the setting helps set the story apart from the usual monster and poltergeist-related stuff we often get in major studio American horror.

A plot worth caring about is another benefit. For all the supernatural goings-on, Dancing Village: The Curse Begins is ultimately about Mila’s journey. She gets caught in the middle of a predicament that she in no way initiated. In the process of attempting to do what’s right, she must face the possibility that “right” isn’t easily defined in this case. The genesis was two-and-a-half decades ago, and her lineage has placed her in the line of fire, like it or not. Effrosina gives a terrific performance, conveying Mila’s growing acceptance of her fate.

Stamboel creates an unsettling ambiance that sucks you in. The plot has an ominous slow-burn quality, which is intermittently punctuated by a burst of overt terror. That keeps you off-balance, especially since you can’t see those beats coming. Excellent production design makes the village feel appropriately isolated, further underlining how helpless Mila is in the situation. Stylish cinematography contributes to the impact, too. There’s an alluring dark beauty to the visuals.

Dancing Village: The Curse Begins is high-quality horror – intelligent, character-based, and creepy. Indonesia has been doing interesting stuff in the genre in recent years. Here’s a prime example of what the country’s cinema has to offer.

out of four

Dancing Village: The Curse Begins is unrated, but contains strong language and some gruesome images. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan