Series Recap: HBO’s FOLKLORE (2019)

In recent years, the horror anthology has become a staple in a network’s wheelhouse. We’ve seen FX’s American Horror Story series come to life with mix success. Amazon took on Aaron Mahnke’s Lore. Hulu and Blumhouse teamed up to bring their INTO THE DARKInto the Dark series. And now HBO has teamed up with six Asian filmmakers to create FOLKLORE, an anthology series that brings to life different creatures from various East and Southeast Asian cultures with mostly entertaining results. This series at its core serves as an introduction of these monsters to Westerners across the globe but also showcases a distinct humanity that helps ground these sometimes immensely unbelievable monsters into reality. That being said, here is my review of HBO Asia’s FOLKLORE:

“Folklore: A Mother’s Love” directed by Joko Anwar (Indonesia)

A Mother’s Love (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

A Mother’s Love was my favorite because throughout the course of the entire film, you didn’t really know whether or not what was happening was in the mother’s head or if the Wewe Gombel was actually seeking out revenge. By rooting the story in the brutal reality of a single mother trying her damnedest to provide a life for her son and coming up short, it made one of the twists revealed later on in the film that much more believable. It isn’t until the end of the film that we actually know what is happening, what the true reality is, and the film stands out that much more because of how masterful the storyline and the performances are.

“Folklore: Tatami” directed by Takumi Saitoh (Japan)

Tatami (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

This film felt very much like a mystery film until maybe the last 5 minutes of the run time. The main focus of the film seemed to revolve around the main character’s mysterious flashbacks, memories that he couldn’t explain. We also discover that he has a problem hearing, possibly being deaf which limits his ability to get around places. It also makes his exploration later more concerning because he cannot hear that he is being followed. What unfolds after is the revelation of the true extent madness can take us, especially in the pursuit of greed. I think many who are familiar with Japanese horror films will enjoy the surprise ending, but there might be those who are very confused about how the film ends. My advice is to take the ending with a grain of salt and just enjoy the rest of the film for the mystery that gradually reveals itself.

“Folklore: Nobody” directed by Eric Khoo (Singapore)

Nobody (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

This film will haunt people I think, but not for the reasons that one could imagine. For many Westerners who are unfamiliar, a lot of the creatures that take root within Asian culture develop as a result of tragedy and pain. The theme of exploitation is a thread that runs throughout the course of this particular film and we can’t help but see it in the Pontianak’s slow gradual reveal and her connection with the poor foreign construction worker trying to provide a livelihood for a child he cannot see. My only complaint is that I wish that the scenes where the Pontianak takes her revenge on those she has deemed to be cruel were executed in a less cheesy fashion. But that is not the main focus of this film. The growing bond between the Pontianak and the construction worker who accidentally brings her back to life is the focus.  

“Folklore: Pob” directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand)

Pob (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

In terms of the execution of the plot, this film was potentially the weakest. Rather than watch everything play out and discovering why the Pob was at the scene of a murder, the audience gets to be told rather than shown what has happened to have led us to the opening couple of scenes. However, there is a humor to this film that I think helps to relieve some of the darkness that binge-watchers of this series may be feeling once they tackle this episode. Also, again, the humanity that is interwoven within this film makes us feel for both the Pob and the journalist who is listening to the Pob tell his story. You can’t help but want the best for both of them despite their circumstances.

“Folklore: Toyol” directed by Ho Yuhang (Malaysia)

Toyol (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

I really wanted to enjoy this film, but I would say it was one of my least favorite. And a lot of that had to do with the unveiling of the Toyol, which was probably the least realistic looking creatures featured in all six of the FOLKLORE films. We immediately figure out who the villain of the piece is within the first five minutes of the film and it’s that reveal early on that makes the film hard to swallow as we watch the villain slowly picking off people one by one who stands in her way. There’s no way to see that the villain won’t win in the end because of the sheer ruthlessness they exhibit. But once the creature is revealed in its poorly rendered CGI, I’m not sure that many will continue to be engaged with the film despite the climactic revelation towards the end.

“Folklore: Mongdal” directed by Lee Sang Woo (Korea)

Mongdal (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

I’m going to start this off by saying that I’m low-key obsessed with the Ghost Bride tradition that this particular film covers. Typically a tradition associated with China, the tradition of the Ghost Bride has always been one that favors men as it is a ritual that ensures that the deceased male son has a wife regardless of whether he is alive or not. This seems to be the case, plot-wise, with this film, which focuses on a mother who is trying to appease her psychopathic son even in death. What I love the most about this film is how we get to see the mother’s rapid psychological decline after the death of her son. By the time we see her start actively planning ways to make her son happy now that he’s gone, we begin to feel for her desperation and sympathize with her maternal desire to satisfy her firstborn son.

Overall, FOLKLORE is a great introduction to a handful of the creatures that reside within East Asian and Southeast Asian culture. Although not necessarily scary, the stories are written in such a way that draws the viewer in and makes us invest in the humanity of almost all characters and creatures involved. I highly recommend this for everyone’s viewing, if only so you can truly understand how much I continue to love these cultures and the inspiration their FOLKLORE brings to me every day.

Check out FOLKLORE which is now available to stream on HBO NOW.

Sarah Musnicky
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