Imaginur (2023) Review

Blurred realities, dream logic and fragmented memories morphed into an abstract piece of filmmaking in Nik Amir Mustapha’s highly-anticipated solo third feature-length directorial effort in Imaginur.

That’s exactly what’s going on in Zuhal’s (Beto Kusyairy) mind. He keeps having this dream of a mysterious woman standing on the field. But he never gets to see the face each time she turns around. Then, we learn he ends up in a car accident and finds himself in a hospital. Not sleeping on the bed but somehow sitting on the chair, looking all lost and confused with his head wrapped in a bandage. Apparently, he was supposed to take care of his dementia-stricken father (Mior Hashim Manap), who sits beside him repeating the same words every now and then.

When Zuhal is getting a cup of coffee from a nearby vending machine, he comes across an elderly woman (Fatimah Abu Bakar), who handed him a card. A card that reads “Hypnotica”, a private clinic of sorts specialising in hypnosis. He decided to visit the clinic after suffering from a panic attack as a result of stumbling upon his ex-fiancee, Yazmin (Ruzana Ibrahim) while shopping for groceries in a supermarket. From there, he meets Dr Ramli (Dato’ Afdlin Shauki), who can help him by using the experimental hypnosis machine.

One night, Zuhal meets Nur (Diana Danielle). It seems like fate that both of them formed an immediate mutual connection. But after Nur tells him she’s off to Japan, the twisted form of dream and reality begins to take place.

Beto Kusyairy and Mior Hashim Manap in "Imaginur" (2023)

I can’t help but immediately see obvious homages to Groundhog Day and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where the latter can be seen in the way Michel Gondry and Nik Amir Mustapha explored the existentialist perspective of human memories and lost love. Both movies incorporate the use of an experimental machine of sorts and featured a befuddled protagonist trying to make sense of everything. As for the former, Nik Amir Mustapha also delved into the oft-seen setup involving recurring events that looped over and over again.

But despite the familiarities in Imaginur, credit goes to Nik Amir Mustapha for making his experimental sci-fi romance drama uniquely his own. Working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Redza Minhat, Nik Amir Mustapha does a great job establishing the dream-like state of Zuhal’s perspective and the movie’s overall atmospheric tone from the get-go, thanks to Idham Mad Din’s cinematography. The intended visuals meant to blur and separate between dream and reality are somehow lacking here but the combination of Nik Amir Mustapha’s fine direction and a labyrinthine screenplay manages to make up for its flaw.

Then, there’s the cast including Beto Kusyairy in one of his best performances to date as Zuhal while Diana Danielle radiates enough charm as Nur. Their on-screen chemistry helps bring the movie together while Imaginur is also blessed with solid supporting turns from Mior Hashim Manap, Fatimah Abu Bakar and Nadiya Nisaa, who plays Zuhal’s sister. Nik Amir Mustapha adds a touch of comedy but it’s just right without overpowering the main theme with Dato’ Afdlin Shauki’s scene-stealing performance as the oddball Dr Ramli.

Not to mention Imaginur gets more interesting as the film goes further, particularly towards the sublime third-act that you just have to see for yourself. Maybe you might predict how Imaginur would end or maybe not. But either way, it’s the journey that matters the most. A 90-minute cinematic experience that Nik Amir Mustapha’s filmmaking brilliance continues to show his flair for making refreshingly unconventional local films just like how he did in KIL (2013) and Terbaik Dari Langit (2014).