Indonesian cinema has been having a bit of a boon in attention since Gareth Evans’ The Raid introduced a level of violence to its martial arts that had rarely been seen before. While Evans helped keep Indonesia in the spotlight with a subsequent sequel, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel were bringing a heavier focus on bloodshed with films like Killers and Headshot, and nothing needs to be said about Iko Uwais, who already stands as one of Indonesia’s greatest movie stars. Now you can add director Joko Anwar to the list of those who are doing big things for the medium in Indonesia. Crafted with a skill easily comparable to James Wan’s horror work, Anwar’s latest movie, Satan’s Slaves, is a methodical exercise in atmosphere that reveres early Asian horror films while being a solid entry in the genre itself.
Satan’s Slaves is set in 1981 as a family’s life is turned upside down after the passing of their singer-songwriter mother. Strange things begin happening, and superstitions start taking hold in this slowly paced horror film centered around four children being haunted by a supernatural force. “Slow” is the operative word here, as Anwar lets atmosphere seep in more than the actual scares — which works for the most part in favor of tension. The unfortunate matter is that atmosphere makes up the bulk of the film’s appeal, leaving most of the scares as a punchline with varying degrees of success.
Most of the horror beats are elevated by the camerawork from Ical Tanjung, as well as the music by Bembi Gusti, Tony Merle, and Aghi Narottama. While the scares tend to be a bit on the generic side, Satan’s Slaves feels very workmanlike in a way that James Wan’s The Conjuring also did. There’s a very assured way of crafting a scare here, with plenty of moments set up and then paid off with effectiveness. Every tiny camera flourish goes a long way toward making the movie exciting, and every time the score kicks in, it varies from being a knowing wink to silly horror movies from the past to a more modern style where music often does a lot of work in creating suspense and scares. This is all helpful because the final punch of each horror moment doesn’t linger for long.
Narratively, there are also a lot of those knowing winks. Plenty of beats are par for the course in a movie like this, but with just a small amount of absurdity to feel like its acknowledging the insane plots it’s worshipping. This is fitting since the film itself is a remake of the 1982 Indonesian film Satan’s Slave from Sisworo Guatama Putra. There aren’t many people making horror movies like this anymore, and Anwar does enough to modernize it. The closest touchstone really is The Conjuring, as it also felt like both a throwback and a new classic horror film at the same time. While Satan’s Slaves doesn’t quite reach those heights, it carries itself with enough confidence and tension to satisfy horror fans.
The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 12 – August 2. Visit the official website for more information.