Review: 5:13

Aravind Abraham

Arivind Abraham and Kieth Leong

Samantha Tan
Iki Putra

Malaysia, 1996. Vivien (Tan) awakens on the night of her wedding anniversary to find that not only is she in the middle of a blackout, but also a radio frequency is transmitting what seems to be an emergency broadcast. Her concerns for her absent journalist husband are far from quelled by strange noises coming from outside, coupled with the abrupt arrival of hubby’s best friend Ash (Putra) – who bears a strange message and seems to know more about the current situation than he’s at first letting on. As the night draws on, old wounds between the two are re-opened and the situation outside the house seems to be worsening…

Abraham’s sophomore feature is a curious blend of politically-minded domestic drama and paranoid invasion flick. It’s not an overtly obvious coupling, but at times it works surprisingly well. Luke Yerbury’s gloomy, foreboding cinematography matches the strong sound design to suggest something deeply sinister outside Vivien’s four walls, and Abraham ratchets up the tension nobly using a single location. The film’s pace falters occasionally, as long dialogue-intense scenes punctuate the anxiety. It’s with these scenes that the surface of our characters are scratched away, revealing a relevant back-story that may have serious consequences on the film’s outcome. The two leads cope admirably enough, with special plaudits going to Tan’s conviction as the frightened and confused Vivien.

Although in context it refers to a specific time, the film’s title also happens to reference May 13th – the date in 1969 on which the Sino Malay riots broke out in Kuala Lumper, launching a national state of emergency. Abraham and Jeong’s script insinuates something similar or - given the mention of a prophetic bohmoh’s involvement – something worse is underway outside the house. It’s a deft political nod that typifies the film’s melding of the real to the fantastic, and suggests that such further attempts at genre cross-pollination may reap greater rewards.

Neth Knowles

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