Runtime: 107 Minutes
Director/Writer: Joko Anwar
Stars: Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Marissa Anita, Asmara Abigail, Christine Hakim, Kiki Narendra, Afrian Aris, Abdurrahman Arif, Zidni Hakim, Teuku Rifnu, Muhammad Abe, Faradina Mufti
By Harris DangFresh off the giddiness of the superhero film “Gundala” (2019), Indonesian writer/director Joko Anwar strikes again with another genre entry “Impetigore” (2020); where he goes back to his horror roots after “Satan’s Slaves” (2017). When it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, it had received a positive reception and this reviewer hopes it will live up to the stellar standards of his filmography. Anwar regular Tara Basro stars as Maya, a toll booth operator who has experienced a really traumatic encounter with a machete-wielding maniac who almost killed her during a nightly work shift. Sometime after, she and her doting friend Dini (Marissa Anita) are in a financial impasse after their business collaboration in running a clothes shop has struggled to stay afloat. Through family heirlooms and a desperate need to get out of their self-imposed rut, the two pose as university students and travel to the village where Maya grew up to reclaim ownership of her family home.
“”Impetigore” (2020) aims for mystery and atmosphere rather than concentrated terror and on that note, the film succeeds for the most part.”But during their journey, creepy occurrences start to pop up like the amount of funerals happening or the fact that there are no children in the village. With none of these freaky moments flying over their heads, the two decide it is best to do what they came for swiftly and leave but Dini goes missing; which sets a chain reaction of events that Maya may not escape from.
Unlike “Satan’s Slaves” (2017), “Impetigore” (2020) aims for mystery and atmosphere rather than concentrated terror and on that note, the film succeeds for the most part. Anwar starts the film off with a very intense scene that sets the tone of the film brilliantly and keeps the audience on edge; giving the story a sense of danger and unpredictability; that anything could happen to the lead characters. The production values are stellar (thanks to the cinematography by Ical Tanjung) and visual cues and littered details that he and Anwar set up like characters lurking in the background, swerving camera movements and off-kilter camera angles (i.e. a character is hung upside down, with their throat slit and blood dripping down their neck) pump up the intrigue scare factor considerably; without the need for jump-scares to keep his audience awake.
As for the narrative itself, the slow-burn approach is engaging for the first two acts as Anwar sets up his characters and potential plot developments efficiently enough (i.e. the elements of Javanese shamanism, murder mystery, family history etc.). But the film spends a bit too much time during its set-up; some of it spend can be cut out i.e. how the characters introduce themselves to the villagers as university students.
“As for the narrative itself, the slow-burn approach is engaging for the first two acts…But the film spends a bit too much time during its set-up.”The storytelling problems hit a further snag when the film reaches its third act. The implementation of exposition via flashbacks is quite clumsy i.e. when the lead character is being chased, she reaches a level of a epiphany, the flashback goes on for a long time, making it hard to believe that she will not be caught during said epiphany.
That said, the film is never boring as Anwar stages the horror aspects with striking style. The use of blood and gore is plentiful and grisly. Babies and necks should not be shown in real life the way “Impetigore” (2020) shows them. It also helps that Anwar has created lead characters that are believable, sympathetic and are portrayed with vivacity by Basro and Anita. Although Anita’s comic relief can be a bit incongruous alongside the film’s serious tone. Overall, “Impetigore” (2020) is an above-average horror effort from Anwar that shows he is one of the most consistent genre filmmakers working today. It does not have the concentrated scare factor of Satan’s Slaves, but it has its own compelling sense of dread that is compelling and creepy in of itself. Recommended. “Impetigore” (2020) is now showing on Shudder.