Think of Halfworlds as Hellboy (from the comics) exploring Asian horror but without the title character and with plenty of action. Backstories for Halfworlds are communicated via a series of illustrations which helps sets the stage for the show. The premise here is that demons walk our world and are seeking for the “The Gift” which would supposedly make them all powerful. Naturally, humans seem to always get in their way and the outcome for homo sapiens are almost always met with grisly ends.
Despite introducing evil spirits from Asian culture, there is little screen time for each of the various legendary monsters of lore nor do they actually manifest the abilities that make them scary in the first place when they do appear on screen. I was expecting a rogue’s gallery of demons but I had to settle with humans with superhuman reflexes and fighting abilities.
Enter Sarah (Salvita Decorte) who holds the key to “The Gift” but the pacing of the show does not seem to allow director Joko Anwar enough time to explain all aspects of the plot sufficiently. The first three episodes of Halfworlds seem to have moving the story along at a leisurely pace and really speeds things up from the fourth episode onwards. In the larger context of things, Halfworlds is contained within half hour episodes with only an eight episode run. There are elements within the first three episodes that could have been dropped off or, alternatively, further explained via the illustrations which I felt was a good complement to the actual show itself.
Five episodes in and I still do not feel that Coki (Nathan Hartono) plays any big significance to the show at all. He is either in this series for token star power or for his good looks. Perhaps he’s pretty famous with the Indonesian audiences but his character does not have access to strong writing and he comes off as more of a whiny male companion to Sarah. In contrast, Barata (Afirin Putra) commands and owns the audience’s attention whenever he is on screen and I guess it certainly helps when he has the meatier action scenes to showcase his moves. Art wise, Barata’s look has a real nod towards Assassin’s Creed here, and might be a plus or minus to you depending on which side of the fence fall on.
While the action is good, the audience does not get the real gist of the terror that will unfold when the Demits get their hands on “The Gift”. Most of the conflict takes place on a very micro level and does not appear to affect the larger scale of things.
Halfworlds might be not the most dialogue heavy show, the decision to have their characters to language-switch between English and Indonesian throughout the show could have been executed with smoother transitions, or even having the entire show in Indonesian with subtitles. Going from American-accented English to Indonesia-accented English and Indonesian, some even going on all at once. Such language diversity might be intentional to illustrate a cultural melting pot, it does make it hard for the audience to follow. I found out that Reza Rahadian, who plays the antagonist Tony, performed his role in English for the very first time for Halfworlds. While Reza does a remarkable effort in pulling off his character, however, there would have been greater impact if the delivery of his lines were in Indonesian instead of English.
Director Joko Anwar has all the qualifications to make Halfworlds but it really does seem that someone from the higher ups might have pushed him to speed things up a little. This is a great show that I would really love to see more off, however, at this juncture it might be better if the cake was left in the oven a tad longer.