Set in a parallel world where demons live alongside humans, Halfworlds is an interesting if slightly erratic variation on a popular theme. Taking its inspiration from Indonesian folklore, the grimy, Blade Runner-esque backstreets of Jakarta provide the setting, as a powerful group of humans struggle to keep supernatural creatures – known as Demit – in check. As a significant event known as ‘The Gift’ approaches, relations become increasingly strained and a young woman Sarah (Salvita Decorte) is drawn into the developing conflict.
The otherworldly theme, and the idea of “special” beings living amongst humans is hardly a new one, but Halfworlds’ beginnings present intrigue and originality despite that familiarity. An animated opening (something that becomes an enjoyable recurrence) exposits some necessary backstory while leaving enough out as to pique your interest. Mysterious, brooding and – let’s face it – cool looking characters emerge from shadows to feed upon or protect weak human prey, and everything sets up very nicely for the series. And that’s when things start to go a little awry.
Much of the problem comes from confusion in the characters. Too many early scenes create too many questions: who’s that? Why are they doing that to them? Who’s that they’re talking about? Wait, what now? – there are just too many inconsistencies in the plotting and pacing that make Halfworlds feel, well, half finished. Casting choices are also very much a lottery. Decorte is engaging as the human Sarah who may or may not hold some importance to the upcoming Gift, but around her many of the characters are too vague to be compelling, or just simply miscast. We need charisma from our heroes and demons, and too many are formulaic or just plain dull.
What saves Halfworlds, and ultimately promises much more, is the gritty aesthetic, and action scenes that settle visually and bloodily somewhere between Gareth Evans’ The Raid and Marvel’s recent Netflix fantasy-tinged Iron Fist. It is in these moments that co-writer and director Joko Anwar appears most comfortable; drawing the audience into wince-inducing encounters with a balletic style that contrasts sharply with the unwieldy nature of the central narrative.
If you accept that, initially at least, the main story in Halfworlds will only be comprehensible on a peripheral level, and simply allow yourself to be drawn into the mystery and physicality of this world, it is a thoroughly enjoyable series. As it develops, and with a second season on the way (already shown and finished in some territories), many of the issues can be ironed out, and Halfworlds may well establish itself as a premier fantasy / horror show.
HALFWORDS: SEASON 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOKO ANWAR / SCREENPLAY: COLLIN CHANG, JOKO ANWAR / STARRING: SALVITA DECORTE, ARIFIN PUTRA, ARIO BAYU, BRONT PLARAE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (AUSTRALIA); UK ON SHUDDER