Art Imitates Life in Indonesian Horror Film – But is Anyone Entertained?

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Art Imitates Life in Indonesian Horror Film – But is Anyone Entertained?

The hit film “Vina: Sebelum 7 Hari” drew its inspiration from the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 2016, prompting accusations of bad taste.

Art Imitates Life in Indonesian Horror Film – But is Anyone Entertained?

A detail of the promotional poster for the Indonesian horror film “Vina: Sebelum 7 Hari.”

Credit: IMDB

Indonesia has a new controversial horror flick in the form of “Vina: Sebelum 7 Hari” (Vina: Before 7 Days) which (loosely) tells the horrific tale of Vina Dewi Arsita, a 16-year-old from Cirebon in West Java who was gang raped and murdered in 2016.

The film was shot as a horror story, and the plot revolves around a friend of Vina being possessed by her spirit some three days after her death, and narrating her tragic demise to Vina’s distraught family.

Apparently, this also happened in real life.

“[The friend who was possessed by] Vina’s spirit told us everything about what happened, she said ‘don’t be fooled by the police, it wasn’t an accident…I was raped, killed, tortured, hit by wooden block’,” Marliana, Vina’s sister said of the incident.

She also said that she recorded the possessed voice and took the recording to the police.

The film has sold some 6 million tickets since it was released in May, making it the second highest grossing film of 2024 after the comedy-horror film “Agak Laen,” and is one of a spate of recent Indonesian horror films that are dominating the box office.

In both the real life case and the film, Vina’s body was found under a bridge in Cirebon alongside her 16-year-old boyfriend, Muhammad “Eky” Rizky.

Initially, the police told the family that the teenagers had been involved in a traffic collision, although this appeared unlikely as the motorbike the couple had been riding was not damaged.

Following a more thorough investigation, the police concluded that the young couple had been attacked by a motorcycle gang who had raped and tortured Vina and murdered both her and Eky before dumping their bodies.

Some eight people were arrested following the crime out of 11 sought by the police, and seven were sentenced to life imprisonment back in 2017. The eighth perpetrator received an eight-year sentence as he was a minor at the time of the attack

Three people were never found.

Now, eight years later, the film about the case has been made and released, and caused immediate controversy for a number of reasons.

Most notable, was the decision to make the story into a horror film, rather than a documentary or simple dramatization of the true events, which many commentators found tasteless and insulting to Vina and her family.

The film is graphic in its depictions of the sexual assault and violence faced by Vina and Eky, earning it a rare 17+ certification in Indonesia.

Then, an even more dramatic twist.

Following the release of the film on May 8, police arrested two men and a construction worker named Pegi Setiawan on May 21 – alleging that Setiawan was the mastermind of the crime.

Some may wonder why, when the Cirebon police had made no headway in the case since 2016, the West Java police, who swiftly took over the case, were suddenly able to arrest the alleged ringleader some two weeks after the film premiered.

Apparently, Setiawan had been on the run for eight years, living under false names, although in a press conference, he claimed that he was “willing to die” to prove his innocence.

Legal experts and commentators have also pushed back, pointing out that the police may now feel under undue pressure to solve the case, causing them to cut corners, and accusing them of not taking it seriously from the outset.

Most unfortunately, Vina’s family have been caught up in the storm of controversy surrounding Setiawan’s arrest, after having originally given their consent for the film to be made in the hopes that it would prompt a review of the cold case.

This has included Marliana, Vina’s sister, who said that the family has been blamed for Setiawan’s alleged wrongful arrest by online sleuths protesting his innocence, causing yet more emotional distress.

“They blame my family. How does my family have anything to do with it?” she said.

It does not stop there.

Last week, the director of the film, Anggy Umbara, was questioned for seven hours about the case by West Java Police investigators – something of a bizarre development to anyone watching either the film or its real life repercussions.

Of course, any developments in a cold case are certainly always welcome, and it would not be the first time that a film or documentary released years after a crime has reactivated and solved a case.

Yet the choice to portray the story of Vina’s death in such a gratuitous way on screen, coupled with the seeming sudden desire to reinvestigate the case by the police seems like a hollow attempt at justice which has only served to further muddy the waters.

Should the film have been made at all?