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Cinepocalypse ’18 Review: “Satan’s Slaves” sows the seeds of terror

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 | Review

By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS

Starring Bront Palarae, Tara Basro, and Endy Arfian
Directed and Written by Joko Anwar
CJ E&M International Sales

Horror is like a passport. Want to know what the French are afraid of? Watch MARTYRS or THE HORDE. And what about Australians? Check out WOLF CREEK or SNOWTOWN. The point is that while we are pretty much universally afraid of zombies and serial killers, the nuances behind each culture’s version of these fears can be seen in their horror films. Which brings me to Indonesian horror which, until now, I’ve had a woeful ignorance of.  Thanks to this year’s Cinepocalypse Film Fest in Chicago, however, I was able to witness the powerhouse of horror that is SATAN’S SLAVES.

The film is a remake of a 1982 Indonesian film of the same name. As explained by programmer Katie Rife before the movie, the original is director Joko Anwar’s favourite film, and he wanted to create an homage worthy of its legacy. Seeing Anwar’s version certainly makes me want to seek the original out.

The film focuses on a family in a state of strife. The mother has been sick for three years, and is completely bed ridden. This leaves the young daughter to care for her two rambunctious younger brothers and her grandmother, while her father tries to scrap together money to save the family home. Just as the last of their income dries up, the mother takes a turn for the worse.

Rather than simply sticking to the family drama, however, the mother’s slip down toward death takes a supernatural twist. Her sudden appearance standing up in the bedroom after only being able to ring a bell to summon help, is a startling moment to family and audience alike. From here is only gets worse.

Though the mother’s appearance tends to lean toward the stereotypical “J-horror” look we all know so well, it’s quite effective here. In fact, the entire film is incredibly aware of what will work best to get the greatest frights. From Argento-level carnage to creepy wells and hordes of the undead, the meandering plot allows for maximum expose to a variety of scares. But with so much thrown in to the film it does feel a little bloated. This isn’t a straight forward horror movie, but an Indonesian boiling pot of a bunch of different horror elements.

Through all of this the uniquely Indonesian aspects of the film shine through. The funeral rites of the Muslim family show us a side of their culture that western audiences might not have seen before. And the ways the dead and undead communicate with their living loved ones is just foreign enough to make it feel both unpredictable and slightly educational.

Even those who are well versed in Indonesian horror should appreciate SATAN’S SLAVES for being a solid horror film, in any culture. The balance between visual scares and terror within the plot make for an all-around wonderful little gem.

Deirdre is a Cleveland-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH., FILM THRILLS, and BITCH FLICKS. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.