Overview: A man transitioning from the army to work in a prison is given a weighty opportunity to assist an executioner. Akanga Film Productions; 2016; Not Rated; 115 minutes.

The Cupboard: Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) lives with his older sister in an apartment which mirrors the prison he works in: restrictive and grey. Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad) cares for their ailing grandmother and lovingly nags like only an older sister can. They’re in each other’s hair and each other’s business at all times, each making choices the other doesn’t agree with. Aiman struggles with his sister’s romantic relationship, fearing abandonment but pushing her away at the same time. Aiman’s choice to work in the prison and become assistant to the executioner hurts Suhila with fair reason: their father was hanged by the same man who does the job today. Their relationship is believable; watching them continuously hurt each other is frustratingly real.

You’re a Serious Guy: The relationship that really stands out is that of Aiman and Rahim (played by Wan Hanafi Su, and referred to as “Chief” throughout the film). Chief is a straightforward executioner. He takes pride in a job well done but no joy in killing. He’s hardened and firm but at times warm as he steps in as a father figure for Aiman. Their conversations shared over the constant cloud of cigarette smoke entertained engrossing questions about the job only the morbidly curious would ask. It’s refreshing and sobering to hear characters speak frankly about heavy matters like death. We are shown Aiman and Chief purchasing rope for hangings as easily as men who buy fish at the docks, and Aiman literally learns the ropes as he is taught how to tie a noose and lengthen the rope to suit a prisoner’s weight. At the same time, compassion is shown through snippets of thoughtful dialogue scattered throughout by both characters as they consider the job they’ve been given.

Dark Times: Though obviously troubled, Aiman has a surprising amount of hope inside of him. When asked why he wants to work in a prison, he replies that he wants to “help people who want to change.” It becomes obvious early on that there is more than one reason for his choice, and he wrestles with that truth throughout. Most of Aiman’s demons stem from the absence of his father. This can seem like a cliche at times as we learn about his past with drugs and gang fights, his transition to the army, and his obvious inability to deal with his anger. The characters in this film are all pretty justifiably angry and they all deal with it in ways that cause them harm. Even steady Chief’s anger emerges and sizzles when Aiman asks questions of morality that challenge his beliefs about himself and his principles. His ability to quietly but firmly bear an intense weight of internal struggle was achieved by a thoroughly competent performance by Wan Hanafi Su.

Overall: Those who like a potent drama will appreciate the solemn tone of this movie and Junfeng Boo’s serious approach to filmmaking. Boo has a natural eye for the camera, capturing thick, dark subject matter with characters who display their flaws like badly-covered wounds. Come prepared: there is no levity to be found in Apprentice, and the ending goes off like a cap gun in your ear.

Grade: B-

Featured Image: Akanga Film Productions