Q&A: “MACABRE” Writer/Director Timo Tjahjanto
The word “rediscovery” is not new to the horror genre, as once a great fright filmmaker enters the cultural awareness, it’s only appropriate that fans dig deeper into their filmography. Sometimes, you find the early work of modern-day master-class auteurs; other times, you discover promising missteps with flashes of greatness interspersed throughout. And occasionally, you come across the origins of a specific perspective, revealing underlying themes, distinctive visuals or simply a penchant for bloody madness.
Among the filmmakers who fit into the latter category is Timo Tjahjanto, the Indonesian artisan who is one-half of the respective duos behind the jaw-dropping “Safe Haven” segment of V/H/S/2 and the upcoming ultraviolent thriller KILLERS. Having also contributed “L is for Libido” to the first ABCs OF DEATH, Tjahjanto has built quite a reputation as an up-and-coming director of the disturbing, pushing the boundaries of suspenseful, stylized violence with each new genre offering. This month, his fans have the chance to witness his roots as his first directorial effort, MACABRE, just become available on DVD (exclusively at Amazon.com) and VOD. Co-written and helmed as “The Mo Brothers” by Tjahjanto and longtime collaborator Kimo Stamboel, MACABRE showcases the former’s twisted talents in its rawest, most unfiltered form. Now that the five-year-old film has finally achieved domestic distribution, Tjahjanto gave FANGORIA a taste of his filmmaking past, present and future.
FANGORIA: What inspired you and Kimo Stamboel to make MACABRE as your first feature project? What was it about the movie that warranted a collaboration rather than a solo effort?
TIMO TJAHJANTO: It had been only two years since I arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia, so everything was new to me, in terms of both my filmmaking career and my stamping grounds. Kimo was more settled and experienced locally; he already owned a quaint production house that concentrated on advertisements, so my attitude was, “Kimo, I know you love these company profiles and advertorial pieces on baby milk and all that, but let’s do something nuts that’s never been done in this Godforsaken place before.”
We made DARA, the short film that inspired MACABRE, and so as not to let that burning energy go to waste, we went straight ahead with trying to score the funds for the feature. It was definitely a team effort, in the sense that Kimo was the guy who could sweet-talk the people who could grease the wheels, from investors down to the crew involved, and I was merely this overexcited, green filmmaker who wanted to strew blood and limbs all over the set by the buckets.
FANG: Was it important for you, as an Indonesian filmmaker, to make a horror movie, considering that that specific area of the world wasn’t as internationally known for the genre among cinephiles? In tackling it, what made you go the human-horror route as opposed to the supernatural?
TJAHJANTO: My inspiration to make MACABRE was simply to create an ode to one person’s work: Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. I had no illusions that the film wasn’t going to be accused of being a CHAINSAW ripoff; I was gonna embrace it, as long as it was the 1974 version. In that respect, I wasn’t thinking as an Indonesian filmmaker or whatnot, I was merely exercising my utmost right as a horror nerd. In regards to the second question, the decision to make a slasher film was easy: At the time, locally, Indonesia was rife with J-horror knockoffs.
FANG: It’s been a long road for MACABRE to the U.S., despite initial buzz and growing attention among horror die-hards. How would you hope the film resonates with American audiences?
TJAHJANTO: To me, having MACABRE released in the States in any form is already a pleasure on its own. Honestly, when I watch the film now, I see nothing but flaws. It was a fun little film to start off the career, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t wish to continue the saga—with a bigger budget and better mileage—now and then. But we were such amateurs back then, and are still constantly learning now, so it’s good for people who have seen ABCs OF DEATH, V/H/S/2 and, hopefully, KILLERS to view this as the beginning of a genre fan trying to make it happen, filmmaking-wise.
FANG: Do you think MACABRE’s gory aspects may paint you in a corner to fans who are already familiar with your super-gory “Safe Haven”?
TJAHJANTO: I honestly don’t think MACABRE is that gory; much of the phantom controversy surrounding this film is due to the fact that the local censorship was such a nightmare. Having said that, MACABRE is the kind of film that’s peppered with an over-the-top sort of violence that’s made for the horror fans. My perspective on violence has become more realistic ever since then—in a way that’s even more distressing.
FANG: How did you go about casting the leads in MACABRE?
TJAHJANTO: At the time, we were offering these roles to young actors who weren’t known for being in horror films. For example: Julie Estelle and Arifin Putra, who play Ladya and Adam respectively, were teen heartthrobs in TV land in Indonesia. Both of them were f**king young at the time we shot this, so there was a sense of wickedness in me wanting to make these sweet little ones suffer for the 27 days of mess and exhaustion that was shooting this movie. You will see those two again in THE RAID 2: BERANDAL, both of them all grown up now, hardcore and stealing scenes left and right.
FANG: Did you feel that you and Stamboel were on the same page with many of the decisions, or did you work on separate aspects of the production simultaneously, in the manner of your dynamic with Gareth Evans on “Safe Haven”?
TJAHJANTO: I think Kimo and I are like water and fire: He’s more calm, barely emotional and always acts as a brake to my hands-on, and often out-of-control, approach. So many things went wrong on the set—little things that snowballed into potential disasters. Making this sort of film was so brand new over here back then, and so many mistakes were made while merely trying to pump blood from a stump or mimicking an arm severing. I was ready to choke some of the crew for screwing up such simple things, but Kimo, like a prophet of Zen, would calmly tap my shoulder and say, “Timo, they are learning. This is new to all of us, so let it slide and let’s work something out.” We weren’t always on the same page, but we sure as hell learned a lot from each other.
FANG: Many people who have seen MACABRE in the past have commented that the film brings a new mentality to its stylistic gore, but feels very old-school in it’s tone. Was that intentional on your and Stamboel’s part as storytellers? Did you feel like you had anything in particular to prove to critics, audiences and contemporaries with MACABRE?
TJAHJANTO: I think with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE being the biggest influence on this picture, that sort of answers the question. Plus, technically, at this stage of my filmmaking process, I was adamant about shooting on film. This was 2008, and digital wasn’t the wonder that it is today, so with the little budget we had, we bought old 16mm film stock, and occasionally, you experience these sepia, grainy visuals. For me personally, it is definitely encouraging if someone, be it critics or audience, tell me that this reminds them of the ’80s/early ’90s splatterhouse horror, as that was the intention.
FANG: It’s rather coincidental that the trailer for KILLERS dropped at the same time MACABRE was picked up for U.S. distribution. What should fans expect out of KILLERS, as opposed to your previous work?
TJAHJANTO: The U.S. distribution was actually agreed on months before; the dual announcement was coincidental, I believe. KILLERS is definitely much more personal to me. I wrote it with the intention of understanding our dependence on violence, what it means for men to be living in a screwed-up world and all of that bleak stuff. So it’s definitely more contemplative.
FANG: Do you think working on stories that allow for such amounts of violence gives you flexibility in terms of defining their genres as either horror, crime, etc?
TJAHJANTO: It’s impossible to detach myself from that particular theme. Not because I love violent acts, but because it’s so relatable since time immemorial, and especially now.
FANG: The last time we spoke, news had just broken about THE NIGHT COMES FOR US, which you described as an “ultraviolent bedtime story.” Is Stamboel involved in this production as well, or is this just another chance to collaborate again with Evans, as well as actor Joe Taslim? Can you tell us anything else about that project?
TJAHJANTO: I think during KILLERS, I realized how selfish I am in terms of hogging all the creative aspects of the project, but in a sense, I also think it is a necessary step in order for myself to grow up as a filmmaker, so Kimo and I mutually agreed to find our individual callings for now. So far, I have always worked on such small budgets and small scales in the past, so the plan for THE NIGHT COMES FOR US is to make it bigger than anything I’ve done before, and all-out brutal.
THE NIGHT COMES FOR US is definitely a film without clearcut heroes; it’s a world of scum and villainy wrapped in hardcore action. I knew I needed someone who never wants to compromise their ambition and creativity, and who’s also a bit f**ked in the head and shares the same tastes as me, so who else but Gareth?
As for Joe Taslim, aside from him being a very good friend of mine, the guy is just a plain beast. He’s never afraid to get hurt, and I know he’s thirsty for some bloodletting. The good news is that Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian [from THE RAID: REDEMPTION] plays a significant role in the film, and last but not least, Iko Uwais is crafting the fight choreography with us. That kid is a f**king genius.
FANG: Do you have any other projects in development? Would you ever want to return to the world of MACABRE, should the film be a hit in the U.S.?
TJAHJANTO: So far, I am committing my mind fully to THE NIGHT COMES FOR US. But if all things go well afterward, I am looking to shoot in Japan again for an erotic horror. I believe MACABRE is done for. I had an outline for a trilogy that I wrote for the film, but the ownership of the rights to the property is, unfortunately, somewhat of a mess that isn’t worth the heartache. Plus, Shareefa Daanish, who plays Dara, just got married and is planning to have kids, and she is irreplaceable, God bless her.
You can follow Tjahjanto on Twitter: @Timobros. For more on THE NIGHT COMES FOR US and his other upcoming films, keep your eyes on this site!