Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba is truly a feast for the eyes.

The local film, based on a popular novel of the same name by Ramlee Awang Murshid, centres on the mysterious namesake protagonist, played by Zul Ariffin.

Born with a disfigured face, Tombiruo hides behind a mask and lives high atop the tree lines in the jungles of Borneo.

Half-man and half-mythical being, Tombiruo not only possesses superhuman strength but the lush forest around him seems to be an extension of himself. Branches and vines coil around his enemies at his behest.

His powers are put to use when a nearby village gets attacked, killing his father (Faizal Hussein). The tragic event sets him on a journey to avenge his father’s death.

Along the way, he crosses paths with a businessman, Tan Sri Berham (Datuk M. Nasir), who initially had plans to build a dam in the area.

There’s also Wan Suraya (Nabila Huda), a relentless journalist who believes there is more to the attack on the village than meets the eye.

The film is a visual spectacle from start to finish, especially on scenes depicting the deep interiors of the jungle. The breathtaking views don’t just look pretty, they draw viewers into Tombiruo’s world.

My favourite moment arrives at the very beginning of the film which delves into Tombiruo’s backstory – it’s captured so elegantly I felt a pinch of pride.

Journalist Wan Suraya can’t believe her editor didn’t assign her to review Ed Sheeran’s concert, instead she’s asked to go jungle trekking.

While it was good the filmmakers spared no expense in perfecting its cinematography, I wish they dialled back a little on their use of computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Being partly fantastical, CGI had to be employed to bring certain imageries to life (such as the sinewy tree vines reaching out to its victims). Unfortunately, some over-the-top action sequences make the otherwise classy production look rather cheesy at some parts. CGI-wise, less is more here.

In terms of storytelling, the action-drama is rife with clever plot twists, save one or two plot holes (then again, they may be answered later, if it gets a sequel.)

It’s also nice to see its female lead, Wan Suraya, depicted as much more than a love interest. She’s no damsel-in-distress; she’s fearless and as a journalist, her character serves as the eyes and ears of the audience – crucial to the story’s development.

Last year’s Malaysia Film Festival Best Actress winner Nabila’s portrayal of Wan Suraya effectively captures her boldness and strength.

Meanwhile, leading man Zul probably had the hardest job to do, with his face obscured by a mask and with very few lines to say.

Despite what little he had to work with, Zul manages to get across the heart of the character and his motivations.

His commitment to embodying the role – dropping 12kg in less than a month – paid off as it lends believability in his portrayal of such a physical character.

The cast gives solid performances across the board (even actors with minor roles shone) which truly helps elevate the film.

Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba is a gutsy, grand endeavour. It shows that local filmmakers need not be afraid to take on stories that are complex in execution.Link to original article in Star 2 here