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Director: Nam Ron

Nam Ron’s first mainstream feature, Psiko: Pencuri Hati (Thief of Hearts), is a story about how five people who live parallel lives are drawn to a murder. Just how their lives intertwine creates the final Volta to this gripping Malaysian thriller.  It’s a movie about Sidi, a mystery novel writer, who has been all efforts trying to follow a serial killer’s murderous patterns for more than three years now; Wani, a depressed housewife who suffered three miscarriages within the three years of her marriage; Khai, the husband of Wani, and a doctor, desperate in consoling and connecting with his wife and her suffering; Pak Abu, the meek and big softie of a husband who happens to be Khai’s school friend and owner of an island resort; and Sitti, the nagging wife of Pak Abu, who seems to take pleasure in ridiculing her husband in front of people. The lives of these five people interlock as they gravitate towards ground zero, the scene of a heinous murder, in this riveting psychological tale.

O. Sidi is a mystery writer trying to follow the MO of a serial killer who remains at large and has earned the handle “Thief of Hearts” for opening the chests of women and cutting their hearts out. The writer’s block that Sidi is going through has hampered his latest project, a novel about real life heinous murders. He is afflicted with delusions and nightmares, often seeing himself in every crime scene doing exactly what the serial killer does. His illusions, fuelled by his intense desire to put himself in the shoes of the killer, has cast him in a wind of doubt about his own innocence. His friend, Man, accompanies him to the scene of the latest crime, and he deduces with him how the felony was perpetrated. Man, concerned about the emotional and mental condition of his friend, convinces him to take a breather in an island resort.

Sharifah Amani and Bront Palarae star in Psiko: Pencuri Hati
Sharifah Amani and Bront Palarae star in Psiko: Pencuri Hati

Meanwhile, Doctor Khai and his wife, Wani, are trying to put together their lives after suffering three miscarriages. Khai tries to reach out to her to get to the bottom of her indifference as she suffers from the latest trauma of losing another unborn child. Living the life of a recluse, Wani takes solace in reading mystery novels, particularly those of O. Sidi. In an effort to save their marriage, Khai convinces Wani to go on a vacation to a remote island resort owned and operated by his old school friend Pak Abu. As the couple reaches the resort, Khai reunites with Abu and gets acquainted with his young wife Sitti.

Being off-season, the resort’s staff are on vacation and only the owners and their guests remain. Sidi is the last person to check in to the resort for the weekend and, with the characters now established, the group comes together for dinner. Fraught with jealousy and aggression, this is a pivotal part of the story that sees the five people get acquainted with each other as their respective demeanours change; all of them except for Pak Abu who remains jolly and genuinely delighted with the company. The next day, Sitti is found dead with her heart cut out. And so the wheels of suspicion turn as fingers and guns point in the direction of the most obvious suspect, Sidi.

Why is he a suspect? Perhaps, it is because of his high strung conduct towards others and his hallucinations of an imaginary friend with whom he is conversing or fighting with. Khai’s suspicions are out of jealousy while Pak Abu’s are beyond reason because of his grief. What follows is a crescendo of revelations leading up to a deadly ending.

"Director Nam Ron plays his cards well in orchestrating the scenes by layers of intrigue that unfold to the film's final bloody conclusion."
“Director Nam Ron plays his cards well in orchestrating the scenes by layers of intrigue that unfold to the film’s final bloody conclusion.”

The film effectively illustrates the makings of a killer, deftly portraying the characteristics and environments that trigger such depravity. The island is a serving plate to the smorgasbord of characters as events and opportunities present themselves, leading towards the identity of the murderer. Sidi is the prime suspect with his reclusive conduct and nervousness but what about the depressed wife, Wani, who seems to project indifference to Sitti and Khai’s side glances? Khai is the most middle-of-the-road guy in the group except for his showing of disdain and jealousy when Wani takes interest in Sidi. Pak Abu may outwardly be sweet but who can really say what’s going on in his mind?

Director Nam Ron plays his cards well in orchestrating the scenes by layers of intrigue that unfold to the film’s final bloody conclusion.  Any fan of the murder mystery genre can deduce who the killer is in about 20 to 30 minutes but the fun is in deconstructing the method behind the madness, and the filmmaker succeeds in hiding the true nature of the killer long enough to lend uncertainty and excitement. And as a director known for his interest in social issues, Nam Ron even uses the film’s grotesque concept of a killer who dismembers and cleanses his victim’s hearts as the unlikely source of a convincing message: that he who is the most pure of heart may cast the first stone.

Watch Psiko: Pencuri Hati on

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