Review: Benevolent Ba (2020)

courtesy of NIFFF

Different peoples, different customs, and, apparently, if someone buys a new piece of property in Malaysia, they have to celebrate it by slaying and eating a goat. At least this is the premise of Benevolent Ba, a short film by Diffan Sina Norman, who turns it into a dark, off-beat comedy with some more sinister, horror undertones. The film premiered earlier this year at Sundance and is currently screened at the web edition of NIFFF.

The family of five consisting of the reluctant father (Mustapha Kamal), the domineering and highly religious mother (Lydiawati) and their three children, the completely “westernized” older son (Anwar Hadi), the quiet teen daughter (Mia Sabrina) and the pre-teen Mamad (Syen Irfan) who is deep in his fantasy world, comes to their newly acquired land. It is pouring rather than just raining, the sky is stormy and the thunder can be heard. Mamad finds it funny to re-enact the beginning of the werewolf-themed video clip for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, explaining why Sina Norman has opened his film with the late singer’s (possibly fake) quote about not endorsing the belief in the occult.

The family is stunned by the delivery man (Kuben Mahadevan) who brings the live goat to them as planned. The trouble is, however, that the man is not Muslim by faith, which is necessary for the ritual, and no one from the family is equipped with skills to actually slay and butcher the animal, so additional help must be enlisted. The time for the ritual is slipping away, the ever-changing weather might be a bad sign and Mamad’s observations might be more in the touch with the reality than anybody would admit.

Benevolent Ba is certainly a film that is extremely fun to watch, deliciously tense and absurd at the same time. The script economy is marvelous and the characters, even those who could serve as passers-by, are developed to a certain extent over the film’s brief runtime of just nine minutes. Benevolent Ba, however, does not feel busy and over-crowded with the unnecessary details, side-plots and red herrings, but like a perfectly composed pitch-black comedy.

The director, who also served as the scriptwriter, and one of the editors (he is also one of the producers) keeps the firm control over the film, relying on his collaborators to do the inspired work. While the cinematography by Saifuddin Musa is competent and precise, but hardly outstanding, the other components, like Lucas Lechowski’s original retro-sounding string soundtrack that dictates the anticipation of the suspense, and both the visual and the practical make-up effects, are being let to shine. Benevolent Ba is a stellar example of a near-perfect (multi-)genre film.

courtesy of Rangka Pictures

Runtime: 9′
Countries: Malaysia, USA
Languages: Malay, English
Directed by: Diffan Sina Norman
Written by: Diffan Sina Norman
Cast: Lydiawati, Mustapha Kamal, Anwar Hadi, Mia Sabrina, Syed Irfan, Kuben Mahadevan, Deric Ee
Cinematography by: Saifuddin Musa
Editing by: Frisha Farhana, Diffan Sina Norman
Music by: Lucas Lechowski
Sound design by: Nathan Ruyle
Animation by: Vincent Tsui
Visual effects by: Cut Mutia
Make-up by: Cindy Hor, Sherry Wong
Special effects by: Cindy Hor, Sherry Wong
Colourist: Ian Gibson
Assistant director: Ariff Zulkarnain
Produced by: Arzuan Anuar, Diffan Sina Norman
Production companies: Rangka Pictures, Spaceboy Studios