A Mystery Best Left Unsolved
By Casey Lee
Mastering the twist within his storytelling, Syafiq pulls his latest trick on Malaysian moviegoers with a meta-twist; having two unprecedented and different cuts of a movie released simultaneously and distributed to cinemas randomly. While an effective marketing ploy to increase viewership and ticket sales for the curious, it inherently makes reviewing Mister Dilaila a nightmarish question of 'should the reviewer watch both versions and compare them?'. As a disclaimer, this review will only cover one version that was presented as version 2, as indicated from the opening credits.
Let's start with the premise that stays the same. Jefri and Dilaila are on vacation at their bungalow on Fraser Hill. Despite displaying their love for each other in a way that they would die for each other, their young marriage has its cracks. After a night of outing ending with one being left in the house, a fight ensues leaving husband and wife to sleep on separate beds. A rude awakening later, Jefri finds his wife (and phone) missing and searched the hillside town to find nothing. A police report only ends with promises to continue the search for the missing wife. As frustration and anxiety looms, Jefri is visited by an inspector and the local iman, accompanied by a woman who claims to be his wife.
Aside from its gorgeous set draped in red, careful compositions and clever transitions (cut by Syafiq himself), Misteri Dilaila sets itself up as a compelling mystery. The question isn't so much as to the whereabouts of the missing wife, but as to whether the woman who lays claim to that title can fully be trusted. With that, Syafiq works well with his cast. Zul Ariffin pulls a convincing performance of a man who lets his anxieties grow further and further, and even accurately reflecting a kind of toxicity found in an absurdly patriarchal marriage. This is complemented by Rosyam Nor and Namron as the detective and cleric respectively, who draw Jefri and us in circles of calculated confusion. While Elizabeth Tan and Sasqia Dahuri have to share their screen time in the same role, they both do a considerably admirable job without overshadowing each other.
Despite its condensed run time, the script isn't able to sustain its mystery for long. Interspersed in the psychological thriller as we wonder if Jefri's sanity is gradually unraveling are horror parlor tricks which becomes more of a distraction than contributing anything meaningful to the narrative, and often less effective than its subtle use of Rasa Sayang. The writing falls apart in the third act when the entrapment is called out, and the suspense and tension built up to the point that it is literally shot up into the dark. This may be the product of having two different cuts as to how Syafiq had envisioned Misteri Dilaila to end, but it sadly undercuts all the gratifying foundation it is built upon. Without a doubt, Misteri Dilaila will have many talking and discussing, but with such drastic difference underpinning its ending, it's hard to see if it will be as memorable as it wants to be for daring to try something new in Malaysian cinema.