Warning: SPOILERS Below For Folklore!
HBO's horror anthology series, Folklore, examines Asian superstitions and national folkloric myths - and the endings for each horror segment are just as confounding as the ones before. Created by HBO Asia, Folklore's six episodes each feature directors from different countries - Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.
While Folklore's collective cast and crew are perhaps unfamiliar to Western viewers, the anthology is very much worth watching, as it allows the audience to engage with the stories, and to understand the conceptual links, including the superstitions that plague each of the aforementioned countries.
Over the past few months, Folklore's segments have premiered at various film festivals, and now, HBO subscribers can experience the horror anthology all at once. Whether it's love, loyalty, or complete lunacy, here are the underlying themes and meanings of Folklore's six endings.
A MOTHER’S LOVE: THE DARK SIDE OF KARMA
Folklore begins with "A Mother's Love" - an Indonesian tale from director Joko Anwar. A mother named Marni (Marissa Anita) lands a three-day job at an empty mansion, and brings along her young son, Jodi (Muzakki Ramdhan). Marni then discovers a room full of starving children in the attic, and the police return the kids to their families. Later, Marni continues to struggle financially, and also with Jodi's behavior. Meanwhile, a man on television suggests that the “Attic Children” were taken by “Wewe” - an entity that takes unloved children who are willing to leave their homes. In the ending, Marni realizes that Wewe has manipulated her thoughts, thus making her question her sanity while making Jodi feel unloved. After a brief stay at a psychiatric ward, Marni returns to the mansion’s attic and discovers her missing son. She then stands up to the entity, unafraid and ready to engage. Wewe approaches but doesn’t attack. Instead, the spirit appears to embrace the mother and son.
Folklore's “A Mother’s Love” uses psychological horror to make a statement about familial love and the pain of possibly losing a child. For dramatic purposes, the director uses disgusting visuals to set the tone. When Marni discovers the “Attic Children,” human feces are spread across the floor. Later, a victim reveals the human excrement to be their daily meals. The segment's ending revisits earlier sequences to show alternatives perspectives, thus making it seem like Marni is attempting to recover from a devastating loss. Surprisingly, “A Mother Loves” strays from traditional jump scares for a relatively heartwarming conclusion. Just as Marni loves Jodi, Wewe loves being a motherly figure, even if her techniques are deeply flawed. In this story, the spirit is misunderstood and misguided.
TATAMI: ORIGIN STORIES AND COPING MECHANISMS
Directed by Takumi Saitoh, this Japanese tale is centered on tatami mat traditions, most notably the idea that a tatami mat absorbs the positive and negative feelings of all the people who have used it. To begin with, a journalist named Makoto (Kazuki Kitamura) takes photos at an abandoned house, and it’s later revealed to be a crime scene. He feels obsessed by a case known as the Shinomiya Family Massacre, but he doesn’t know why; Makoto also learns that his father has just passed away.
Upon arriving back home, he reunites with his mother, and it’s revealed that Makoto is deaf. He experiences haunting memories at home, and the discovery of a bloody tatami mat leads him into a secret room, as well as the past. Makoto's mother, Yoshiko (Misuzu Kanno), explains that her brother-in-law and his assumed uncle (actually his biological father), Koji (Shima Onishi), was killed over an inheritance dispute years before, and that his assumed father (but actual uncle), Tsukasa (Daisuke Kuroda), never fully recovered from the experience. In fact, he never smiled again. Suddenly, the rush of information leads the deaf journalist to remember a repressed memory: he survived the Shinomiya Family Massacre and was then kidnapped, with the psychological trauma being the reason for his hearing loss. In the end, the tatami mat sucks up Makoto’s “mother" and he disposes of his camera film.
Overall, Folklore's “Tatami” effectively connects the dots with flashback montages and visual clues, but it’s heavy on narrative exposition. Similarly to “A Mother’s Love,” the director revisits sequences to expand on the historical aspects and why the protagonist struggles with his memories. While this segment could’ve improved with more character depth, it stays true to the tatami mat concept, and how the past informs the present. Viewers may wonder why a bloody tatami mat is kept around after so many years, but that plot points is connected to the mother’s pride and motivations. She couldn't handle the cards that life dealt her, so she manipulated her reality as a coping mechanism. As for Makoto, he accepts the truth and moves on.