Just Watched, ‘Dongeng Mistis’ Omnibus

Dongeng Mistis (Mystical Tales) is an omnibus of six stories about six mystical creatures in Indonesia: sundel bolong, pocong, genderuwo, begu ganjang, bajang, and lehak. They’re supernatural monsters and ghosts we use to scare kids, and often adults too. Normally I wouldn’t watch horrors, but this one’s special because the lehak story was made by a friend, Andra Fembriarto.

Don’t take my word for it, because I’m a scaredy cat. But the horror ones are scary enough. I watched the scary stuff through my fingers so the ghostly details wouldn’t be burn into my memory, preventing me from sleeping soundly at night. Was it entertaining though? Yes, it was. Especially if you like jumpscares.

Each story is only 10-15 minutes long and they don’t focus much on character development. They’re also not interested in putting new twists to the anecdotes that we’re already familiar with. The doppelgangers, the ghosts who recite the holy verses with you, the supernatural monsters that give you strength, even the aborted baby that haunts you.

There’s nothing new to the stories. Sundel bolong is still the scorned, pregnant woman, killed by a man who doesn’t want to take responsibility. Bajang is still the ghost fetus, haunting a woman aborting her baby because her boyfriend doesn’t want to take responsibility. Seeing a pattern here? When I’m done being scared, I’m thinking about the injustice women have to suffer at the hands of men. Maybe if the stories are longer, we could see the men getting some consequences.

Enough about ghosts, I want to talk about Andra’s Lehak. This is a special one, because unlike the others, it’s more high fantasy than supernatural. The first time I heard about Lehak it was called The Lightdancer, and the short film was released independently by Andra’s Studio Amarana.

Lehak is a story of Al’ya, the kirana miner. In the story, kirana is a ball of energy that people use as a power source and you have to dance to mine it. At this point, Al’ya is tired of dancing.

I’ve been trying to find the words to describe how I feel about Lehak but the only ones I can come up with is that it’s inspiring. Through Lehak, Andra has shown us how an Indonesian high fantasy could look like. We have tons of folklore and mythical creatures. Imagine the potential!

We’re familiar with these stories, it’s true. But as a fantasy reader, I’m often disappointed because these stories are mostly packaged in the supernatural and horror genre. I want to see our own Harry Potter, where a kid is off to study magic in mythical Borneo or Sumatera. Our own Game of Thrones, referencing many of our own ancient kingdoms. We’ll never run out of material!

Out of the six stories in Dongeng Mistis, Lehak is also the one with the biggest heart. I applause Andra for managing to insert an emotional arc in it through a couple of lines. The music and choreography are magical. I hope he’ll get to make a feature out of it one day.

Dongeng Mistis premiered on the 22nd and my guess is it’s only playing until this weekend. It’s mostly playing outside Jakarta, but you can see it in Blok M. Watch it quick for Lehak!

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