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Not ready to end the scary-movie season? 'Roh' is just what you need

So, yeah, yesterday was Halloween, but this time of year just generally feels a little spooky, and if you’re still looking to scratch that itch, there’s a movie that just came out for streaming rental that’s exactly right for the part.

It’s called Roh, which translates to something like “soul” or “spirit,” and it was Malaysia’s submission to last year’s Oscars. The movie seems deeply rooted in the dark dread of folklore, and starting a movie with the atmosphere of a folk tale and a house in some creepy woods is a surefire way to get me instantly on board.

A woman and her two children live alone in the middle of the woods. There’s mention of a village on the other side of the river, but we never go there, and it could be a thousand miles away for as much good as it seems to do the small family. One day, a mud-covered girl starts following the two children, so they bring her home to feed her and get her cleaned up. As you might imagine, this doesn’t go so well, as one day the family wakes up to see the girl eating birds, at which point she tells them they’re all going to die before the next full moon.

There are a million ways this could have gone, and just as many ways it could have gone wrong, but what Roh does so well is to be patient and to find its horror in the unfolding story instead of in the usual movie tricks. There are few, if any, jump scares, and while there’s a decent amount of blood, it doesn’t rely on gore. And the way it uses sound is magnificent—one scene in particular gave me actual physical shivers, not because of the horrifying thing I was seeing, but because of how it came at me through the insistent beat of the sound.

I acknowledge there’s plenty in the movie I just plain didn’t understand, and probably some of that is intentional ambiguity, but I’m sure my cultural ignorance is at play here, too. Even so, it didn’t really matter—for this time of year when it gets dark early, Roh is a supremely spooky tale.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.