If The Incredibles 2 was a horror film about a baby who happens to be possessed, it would be Bayi Ajaib. This absurdly camp Indonesian remake of an old cultural classic had me laughing out loud for the most part and squirming in disgust for the other. I sat down to watch Bayi Ajaib with no idea what it was about, and at first, I was excited to get some insights into Indonesian culture and rural way of life. That quickly faded away to wanting to switch to the Discovery channel and stop the menace that was this film. And I don’t use that word to describe the horrors of the film but to talk about how alarmingly comical the whole affair is. There are many sub-genres of the horror kind, and Bayi Ajaib can fall under many of them, including pregnancy horror (the worst kind, in my opinion), body horror, folklore, and religion (the most interesting parts of the film), and horror-comedy; this last one was definitely unintentional from what I understand.
Bayi Ajaib follows a greedy man named Kosim, who becomes affluent after finding gold in a water body, somewhere in remote Indonesia. He moves back home, to Hirupbagja, and marries the love of his life, but he becomes exploitative after getting everything he wants. Soon, his beautiful wife Laras gets pregnant, and Kosim hopes for a son, but on the day of an eclipse, Laras gets lost in the forest, and something unthinkable happens. An evil man, Dorman, who is greedier than Kosim and drowning in poverty, needs a vessel to bring back his Portuguese grandfather to life so that he can be rich. He decides to use Kosim and Laras’ unborn child to do so, and he leaves Laras to fall into his grave for a terrible fate. After that, things started to get weird for the newlywed couple. As a concept, “Bayi Ajaib” makes sense, especially with the cultural context making it interesting for an outsider to the culture, but it follows common Western tropes, uses relentless jumpscares, and most importantly, uses gore that seemingly comes out of nowhere to scare the viewer, but the practical effects, unflattering CGI, and blood spatters just look overused and make the film predictable.
Considering Bayi Ajaib is a remake, there could’ve been some contemporary ideas woven into the traditional storyline, specifically when it comes to the SA, which in my opinion, was entirely unnecessary and really threw me off the film. Seeing the Indonesian countryside was great, and if only some other aspects of rurallife could be depicted as well, it may have made the characters more fulfilling. We could compare Bayi Ajaib to the most recent Evil Dead, but the only problem here is that it doesn’t go all the way to make it such an enjoyable viewing experience. Instead, the old man-headed baby leaves a sour taste in our mouth. Specifically, the first “scary” scene of the film is ridiculously absurd. Added to that, the bare body of a baby with long white hair and a beard is so camp that I had to stop the film and breathe from laughing too much. The big problem here is that we’ve been spoiled by great CGI and practical effects, especially in the past few years with big-budget films like M3GAN, Evil Dead Rise, or even Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, which uses only practical effects to create amazing visuals, making Bayi Ajaib look like a children’s movie. In the same case, if we compare it to films that came out at the same time as the original, which is the 1980s, then it still works because that was the time such films were thriving, and the absurdity of Ash’s hand in Evil Dead or the killer toy “Chucky,” the old man baby (literally) would fit right in.
Vino G. Bastian is great as Kosim, who is loving towards his family but terrible to his workers. As the film progresses, we see more of his soft side when he cares for his son Didi and his wife, but he simultaneously gets harsher and greedier, which is an interesting duality. Sara Fajira, as Laras, is convincing when she has to look terrified, whether it is to give birth or whether it is due to her demon-possessed son. On the other hand, the antagonist Dorman is rarely in the film, or at least to me, he doesn’t even seem important because of the lack of any kind of story arc for him. The rapacious man gets all the money he needs but continues to do black magic and wearily attempts to torment the people of the village. His character feels underdeveloped and could’ve been more terrifying if given the chance. Adipati Dolken does a good job with the material he’s given and gives it the ickiness needed for a character like Dorman. Rayhan Cornellis is great as Didi, whether possessed or terrified of the person he becomes when taken over by the Portuguese old man. His screen time is the most entertaining part of the film, and the boy’s eyes do a lot of the acting. Anantya Kirana is great as Didi’s friend Rini and saves a lot of the film with her cute gestures and well-timed dialogue delivery for such a young child.
Bayi Ajaib is definitely huge in the home country, as the movie ends with a foot in the door, leaving it wide open for sequels. Personally, I wouldn’t come back for seconds, as it didn’t give me the thrill I yearn for while watching horror movies. I can understand how this film might be polarizing and may even have a cult following in Indonesia, based on what I can see online. If you want to spend about an hour and a half of your weekend with some background noise that is absurd and hilarious, and if you also want to see an Indonesian take on an exorcism, give Bayi Ajaib a go. But if you’re not a fan of fake-looking effects and badly done CGI, I would recommend skipping this one. As a self-proclaimed veteran of the horror genre, I could not feel any kind of terror or eeriness from this film, so it falls short for me. For those of us who are uninitiated to the genre, this might be an interesting new way to give it a try. I would give Bayi Ajaib no more than two out of five stars and hope for cultural representation in better Indonesian horror films.