Impetigore (2019)

Director & Writer: Joko Anwar
Available on Shudder, Amazon

Maya and Dini peer out at the village that wants them dead.

The latest by Joko Anwar brings on classic scares while remaining fresh. Impetigore, or Perempuan Tanah Jahanam feels like a return to a golden age of horror that we’ve maybe been waiting for. This makes sense for a film director Anwar describes as “a love letter to horror movies I grew up with.” The director previously brought Indonesian Horror into international conversations after directing the country’s highest grossing film in the genre, Satan’s Slaves in 2017 and partnering with streaming service Shudder to bring the remake of a 1980 classic to an international audience. Luckily Shudder has stepped up again to make Impetigore available to Horror fans abroad as well.

This more recent offering could have easily been a movie of shock horror and jump scares. While never as unsettling as one would like, the balance of blood, suspense, and negative inter human sentiment creates an effective Horror movie that is entirely enjoyable. In many ways, it is one of the best balanced Horror movies I’ve seen in several years.

Our protagonists are friends who are struggling to make their way in the world. After a failed fashion venture and what seems like a life of continuous disappointment, the two have decided to try and take advantage of a possible inheritance left to Maya (Tara Basro). Unlike other BFF narratives, Maya and Dini (Marissa Anita) are not exactly trustworthy. While they do not outright betray each other, their hard-won street smarts save them as often as get them in trouble… which is a liability in a town out to murder them. Two unreliable characters, their extreme chemistry only enhances the effects when they separate and act in self-interest.

Just like the best slashers of the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, where Americana slipped in to juxtapose murder and increase the horror of small town settings, Impetigore introduces the aging spectacle of Wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and dabbles in poorly patched up small town politics to enhance its central supernatural narrative. While there are clear influences from Horror American audiences would recognize, it becomes a uniquely Indonesian movie that stands as far more than homage.

On top of this, it adds takeaways that we have yet to see in the American genre offerings: In the midst of smalltown chaos, Impetigore suddenly takes a turn and briefly becomes about violence against women. It’s a surprisingly deep theme, but not unexpected beside the immense family trauma and shared grief.

Shortened bloodlines have created an increased trust in elders in the setting of Impetigore.

The complex themes are part of why this film shines: while I acknowledge as an English speaker, there might be some missing elements here, the script of Impetigore truly stands out. Lines that might read as cheesy in other movies are brought home by actors with absolute understanding of their characters and a clear sense of purpose. While it gets choppy as it reveals the history of a long-standing horror, Impetigore is a finely made horror film that will stand up as a standard of the genre for years to come.

After this, watch: May the Devil Take You (2018), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

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