★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A group of paranormal investigators gains access to an abandoned amusement park in Malaysia called Miimaland, as part of a challenge by a shady hustler. What starts out as an amusing lark becomes a deadly curse trap that proves to be a haunted destiny for the crew.
Directed by Nevin Hiong
Miimaland was the Disneyland of Malaysia. Opened in 1971, it was unceremoniously closed following a tragic death and a landslide in 1994. Since then, the amusement park has been reclaimed by the Malaysian jungle, becoming a modern ruin, and the source of a lot of adventure seekers who dare to sneak into the abandoned facility.
The eponymous film proposes that not only is the old park deteriorating, but it is haunted as well. Ariel (Fattah Amin) is a paranormal hunter and amateur journalist. He and his team, including his reluctant and expectant wife Eliza (Sophia Albarakbah), are summoned to the overgrown park by an eccentric hustler who promises that if they go and test the park by doing a series of sinister challenges, that they will be paid a tidy sum by a dubious but wealthy showman if they record themselves executing the scary dares.
The team is joined by a couple of Korean YouTubers who are there as a publicity stunt, along with their eccentric handler and the three of them are treating this adventure as a bit of a fun excursion. The challenges were set up, game-show style, but it doesn’t take long before there are concerns that the park really is haunted. But all of the people involved are desperate for the money and are willing to do all sorts of dicey tests of courage despite the signs that something really might be off. Ariel insists that they soldier on, despite the protestations of the Koreans and Eliza.
Eventually, the jungle comes alive, tendril vines reaching out and attacking the group, scattering them in all directions. Eliza stumbles across a house where she looks for help and discovers a ghostly woman who challenges her to get justice for her lost child and then forcibly removes her from the premises.
But discovering that secret just amplifies the intensity of the curse. The foolhardy crew continues to put money over self-preservation, and the park exacts its toll. Eliza realizes that the ghostly woman was making reference to her pregnancy and to the abortion that the couple had years ago. But can she and Arial figure out how to reverse the curse in time? The challenges go from daunting to deadly as one by one the investigators are killed off as Eliza and Ariel try to piece together a way to appease the ghost.
This is a solid story, and the cast is charismatic. The Portland Horror Film Festival featured two Malaysian films as a double feature, along with Zombie Infection – Belaban Hidup, and this was the more inventive and original of the two tales. There is a terrific twist at the end and the ghost’s origin once revealed is poignant and very satisfying.
The movie is far from perfect, though. The character actions are mind-bogglingly poor. Once the danger is revealed, continuing on with the challenges seems like a ludicrous move, and you end up feeling like: well, you guys earned that fate. I like the use of the real ruins, but at a certain point, the park seemed somewhat irrelevant to the core of the plot. The story could have been anywhere, but Miimaland had a bunch of creepy overgrown sites that the producers clearly wanted to showcase. It was a bit of a forced fit.
Miimaland also suffers a bit from too many loud jump scares. I’m getting tired of the loud bang, as they tend to be unearned, and feeling rather predictable. These should be used selectively, and this tactic, often employed by PG-13 movies to generate scares without the benefit of gore or violence seems like cheap thrills. It’s too bad because there are some pretty good scares in this film without the employment of the cheap gag.
As I had mentioned in my review of Zombie Infection – Belagang Hidup, I have great expectations from Malaysia as a new source of horror films. The Indonesians have been killing it (literally and figuratively) over the past several years, and to add Malaysia to the horror map would be fantastic. In a way, you could compare it to the elevation of Korean horror and its relationship with Japanese Horror. J-Horror set the table, and the Koreans eventually elevated their horror film quality to the point where East Asia turns out great horror on a regular basis.
Miimaland is a building block to bigger and better things. I look forward to what may be coming next from the Peninsula. I will be curious as to how the Malaysians take to this movie, and whether it becomes a hit there. With enough festival exposure, this film is something that might end up on Shudder or a similar streaming service soon.
Miimaland is unrated, but would certainly be rated R, for violence and some very mature themes. Miimaland does not yet have a streaming release in the US, but it might be available in Asia.