27 Steps of May [Indonesian Movie Review]

Director: Ravi L. Bharwani

Scriptwriter: Rayya Makarim

Genre: Dark, Drama

Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes

Eight years since the tragedy of sexual harassment, May begins to discover an outside magical force that begins to change the comfort of her eternal self-isolation and silence.

Why It’s Worth Watching

Despite its ordinary plot and sets and a minimum amount of dialogue, the stellar performances of the casts of 27 Steps of May still can maintain the strength of emotional heaviness to the already sensitive theme.

The Silence and Its Inner Trauma

Like all the frustrating movies (and horror movies) that start happily then turn sour at the end, 27 Steps of May also opens its story with a joyful scene of May (Raihaanun), a petite, cheerful 14 years old girl, who plays carelessly at a small amusement park at night (yeah, the actress played May’s younger self too). The sequence doesn’t last long. Soon after that, May who passes a dark alley on her way home gets abducted and sexually abused by a group of men. What follows after this disturbing scene is equally traumatic for her dad (Lukman Sardi) as he sees her daughter walking home with a messy appearance and horrible expression he cannot bear to remember. The future of this family that only consists of May and her father is instantly destroyed just in one night, and the trauma still persists for eight years. Both members still live, yet with the absence of joy and communication as normal families do.

Afterward, the movie skips eight years later. Here, we can see the now-adult May doing her routine: waking up, exercising, ironing her clothes. These individual tasks are continued with eating and making dozens of dolls for earning money, all done with the help of her father, who faithfully provides her food and the goods as well as lending hands for her doll crafting. The movie doesn’t tell much about what happened between those eight years lapse nor how the two managed to live through that hellish event. One thing for sure: the two still cannot cope with it and we can see May attempts to isolate herself within the comfort of her space and activities. What implied here regarding the space is the area spanning her room and the dining table which is the only area her father and she can sit in proximity. She doesn’t bother to touch any door beside her room’s and her bathroom (which is also located inside her room), means she doesn’t have any desire to go outside of her house.

Her father compensates May’s hopeless decision by giving her as many supports as he can, while he himself endures an evenly agonizing pain of knowing he couldn’t prevent what had befallen on her daughter. It is quite interesting how the scriptwriter Rayya Makarim uses a single father instead of a mother or complete parents. She deliberately put the father because it becomes a challenge for a male parent to understanding the burden that has to be faced by a female victim of sexual abuse. Moreover, it becomes ironic to May that she is traumatized after being “attacked” by males and has to live with a “male” parent. It is made clear when they are in danger and her father has to hold and pull her out of the dire situation. May soon releases her father’s grip and runs to the bathroom and injures her arm. By witnessing such incident, we are shown to what extent May lurking beneath her depression. As much as May hurts, her father’s self-blame draws him into a boxing ring where he wreaks vengeance on other fighters. Thus, the duality of the father’s character is explained: a loyal, caring father who nurtures his only child and a raging fighter who mercilessly attacks his opponents. The static relationship between the father and daughter slowly finds its changer, the magician (Ario Bayu). Despite the sound is really fairy-tale like, the magician next house works his tricks to May’s comfort. Through the accidental hole that connects his room to hers, May’s newfound interest gradually let her become the participant of the magician’s show.

May, the father, and the magician resonate with the distinct tone of the movie, and it becomes a focal point that can be felt right away. May’s monochromatic color and theatrical set affirm her isolation and a structured way of living as she tries to rebuild while at the same time won’t allow anyone to taint it; the father highly contrasting, bold color expresses his anger and a sense of brutal reality an outburst that he releases wildly on the ring and forbids in front of May; and the magician warm and calming color dominated by blue easily calms and intrigues May’s untouchable interest. The magician’s tone somehow resembles the tone of the young May who played carelessly at the amusement park. Since that time she lived without any worry, the magician’s nostalgic and welcoming surrounding is enough to let May revisit the joy of harmless life she’s been longing for. It might turn the other way if the magician follows the traditional black.

Aside from the tone, the casts’ magnificent performances weave their spell to the movie that relies on miming, then bursts its speech spectacularly on a few important moments. Raihaanun can effortlessly adjust May’s usual stoic expression to another whenever it’s needed. Sardi captures the great nuance of the father who has to compromise and at the same time, feels powerless while watching his daughter grows in unhealthy development. His state of mind is reconfirmed by Verdi Solaiman who excellently portrays a generous, quirky courier. Though the courier might be considered more ordinary than the other characters, the untypical nature he possesses brings a diverse nuance to the already aligned tone offered in the movie. This character also becomes the means of exploring the father’s emotions. What’s left is how the magician can utilize his tricks to make the center of the movie, May, breaking her rules. In that sense, Bayu manages to emanate an uncanny deliverance of a mysterious magician that shows but don’t tell.

Then again, the movie drags on in the middle; the slow development and the minimum dialogue add stagnation to it in a way it becomes more challenging to follow. But, as mentioned above, the choice of casts and their characters, as well as the sets and the tone, are what make the movie interesting and the director Ravi L. Bharwani can execute these elements as charmingly as possible.

Quote

“Lu gak bisa ngindarin. Lu gak bisa balik lagi waktu untuk ngebenerin.”

“You couldn’t have prevented it. You can’t turn back time to make it right.”

Score

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A victim of sexual abuse finds her hope again after eight years of self-isolation through a hole that connects her room with a magician next house.

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