Netflix’s Indonesian supernatural thriller The 3rd Eye (or Mata Batin in its native language) feels like a first draft movie. It has an amorphous quality to the story’s logic that feels like it’s a draft or two from clicking. The effects are spotty and there are some unintentionally funny moments. All of this points to inexperienced filmmakers. However, alas, the director Rocky Soraya is more like a machine, cranking out movies. That experience eventually shines through, and Soraya delivers a loose, fun time. But is it “Spooktacular?” Almost.
The movie kicks off in 2005 with young Abel (Bianca Hello) seeing spooky things around her family’s home. Abel swears she’s seeing ghosts, but her parents can’t see anything out of the ordinary. But her sister, Alia (Jessica Mila), possibly does, dun dun duuuuuun. Cut to 12 years later and the family is in a new house. That is until the parents die in a traffic accident and Alia has to come home to care for Abel. And the sisters have to move back into their old house. In her quest to understand Abel’s affliction, the sisters visit Bu Windu (Citra Prima) to learn about “the third eye.” As Bu explains, everyone has a third eye which allows them to see the supernatural world. But, only those who have had their third eye opened can see what is out there among us.
Once Alia has her awakening, it opens the floodgates and what initially seemed like Abel’s story becomes Alia’s. The ghosts/spirits/beings get the usual story treatment (i.e., they have unfinished business on Earth). Nothing about the story is particularly unique, but Soraya’s film makes its bones with its scary moments. One of the quirks of the spectral beings is that their appearances can be random and some of the beings may not even know they’re dead. The former hints at an undercooked script, while the latter delivers some effective surprises. Really, once Alia opens her third eye the film hits its stride. Soraya has directed and/or produced 17 movies since 2012, so he’s nothing if not efficient. He keeps the scares and twists coming and keeps viewers on their toes.
Mila, Hello, and Prima make a fun lead trio. The film would benefit from having more interplay between the three and fewer exposition dumps. Still, they make the most of the material. While Bu and Abel hang around and explain things, Alia gets caught up with one particular spirit. This sets her off to solve a murder and bring the spirit closure, and it’s the strongest section of the movie. Alia isn’t a strong detective, she ends up going to some cool places to find answers. It’s a microcosm of the good and bad of The 3rd Eye. The story is built on a foundation of familiar tropes, sometimes bordering on cliché. Soraya is counting on the audience bringing its genre knowledge into this one.
As I think and write about this movie I keep coming back to its disregard for rigidity. It feels like the M.O. is to go for whatever will provoke the best reaction. Take the ghosts, for example. Despite the rules about who can and can’t see them, there are scenes where ghosts alternate between being visible. The benefit of setting up the rules of your story is so when you break them, it feels significant. But that isn’t the sense you get here. It’s a cheat, all the way. But… it kind of works. Or, at least, it works more often than not.
I thought about the early 2000s Japanese horror film The Eye frequently throughout The 3rd Eye. Beyond the similar title and storyline, both movies use close-quarters scenes to maximum effect. The two films share elevator sequences that will give you chills. The 3rd Eye will remind viewers of plenty other recent supernatural movies too. The Eye, and most of the other reference point films are better, but not as readily available as The 3rd Eye.
By the end, The 3rd Eye settles all the way into “you could do better, but you could do worse” territory. It’s a silly movie, but it’s unabashedly endearing. Despite my reservations, I would watch another The 3rd Eye film. Take that endorsement how you want. Soraya is in production on a sequel, so it’ll be available soon either way. After all is said and done, there is only one last thing to add. I can’t go all the way to “Spooktacular!” for The 3rd Eye, but I’m pleased to still issue a lowercase and no exclamation point endorsement of “spooktacular.”
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