×

Rotterdam Film Review: ‘Satan’s Slaves’

Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar delivers the goods with a lively remake of the 1982 occult thriller.

Director:
Joko Anwar
With:
Tara Basro, Endy Arfian, Nasar Annuz, Muhammad Adhiyat, Ayu Laksmi, Bront Palarae.

1 hour 46 minures

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7076834/?ref_=nv_sr_2

Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar (“Modus Anomali,” “A Copy of My Mind”) continues his excursions into fantasy with “Satan’s Slaves,” an impressive remake of the 1982 occult thriller about a troubled family being terrorized by demons and zombies. Set in 1981 and executed in a style recalling both European and U.S. indie supernatural chillers of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the new film is a creepy mood piece that falters only by telegraphing some of its jump scares. Produced by venerable exploitation company Rapi Films, with assistance from South Korean giant CJ Entertainment, “Slaves” went ballistic at the Indonesian box office in its September release, with 4.2 million admissions, and has secured theatrical distribution in numerous Asian territories. Exposure at Rotterdam should help this nifty little scarer gain traction beyond the region.

Anwar’s screenplay improves markedly on the original by adding an intriguing wrap-around tale and beefing up the backstories of the main characters. The result is a much more suspenseful and emotionally engaging exercise that also benefits from well-timed shots of deadpan humor along the way.

A punchy pre-credits sequence establishes Mawarni Suwono (Ayu Laksmi) as a famous singer who was struck down three years ago by a mysterious illness. Hit records and royalty checks have dried up, leaving Mawarni to languish in her family’s creaky old house on the outskirts of Jakarta. Completing the excellent introductory set-up is Allan Sebastian’s spot-on retro production design and Ical Tanjung’s atmospheric photography of the dwelling’s musty, sepia-toned interiors. And just for good measure, there’s a cemetery situated within a stone’s throw of Mawarni’s home.

In the wake of Mawarni’s death, her unnamed hubby (Bront Palarae) heads to the big city in an attempt to revive the family’s ailing finances. Left in charge is 22-year-old daughter Rini (Tara Basro: “A Copy of My Mind”), who sacrificed her college education to care for her mother and is now responsible for younger brothers Tony (Endy Arfian), a lively 16-year-old who wants to be a gigolo; Bondi (Nasar Annuz), an inquisitive 10-year-old; and Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat), a mute lad about to turn 7.

It’s not long before Rini and the boys are visited by all manner of otherworldly entities. Leading the charge is the ghost of Mawarni, whose malevolent eye appears to be trained on Ian. Close on her heels is a pack of zombies that shuffles over from the cemetery and sets up camp outside the house. Anwar’s pacy screenplay keeps the frights coming with Bondi’s visions of ancient curses; Ian possibly turning into a “Damien”-like devil boy; and retro objects such as vinyl record players, transistor radios and a View-Master sending out spooky signals.

Although some shocks are diluted by music cues and sound effects that give the game away, most hit the mark. The “haunted house and demons running amok” scenario might be quite familiar but “Satan’s Slaves” scores high marks when it comes to the fundamental horror movie task of sending shivers up the spine and quickening the pulse.

Arifin Cu’unk’s editing switches snappily between scary stuff and Rini’s attempts to find answers. According to a local Islamic scholar (Arswendi Bening Swara), Rini and her non-religious family can only ward off evil by praying and “surrendering to God wholeheartedly.” Offering a different viewpoint is Budiman (Egi Fedly), an eccentric author of articles about Satanic cults whose knowledge of Mawarni’s checkered past propels the tale to a rousing finale.

Energetically performed by a uniformly fine cast, “Satan’s Slaves” benefits from a top-notch technical presentation, including a splendid score by Aghi Narottama, Bemby Gusti and Tony Merle. Genre geeks will be especially impressed by the main titles theme, which sounds like it could have been lifted from one of Jean Rollin’s sex-vampire movies of the 1970s.

 

Rotterdam Film Review: ‘Satan’s Slaves’

Reviewed online, Adelaide, South Australia, Jan. 26, 2018. In Rotterdam Film Festival (Rotterdammerung). Also in Hawaii Film Festival. Running time: 106 MIN. (Original title: “Pengabdi setan”)

Production: (Indonesia) A Rapi Films production in association with CJ Entertainment. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Producer: Gope T. Samtani. Executive producers: Sunil G. Samtani, Priya N.K., Jeong Tae-sung, Mike Im.

Crew: Director, writer: Joko Anwar, based on the screenplay “Pengabdi Setan” by Sisworo Gautama Putra, Naryono Prayitno, Subiago S., Imam Tantowi. Camera (color, widescreen): Ical Tanjung. Editor: Arifin Cu’unk. Music: Aghi Narottama, Bemby Gusti, Tony Merle.

With: Tara Basro, Endy Arfian, Nasar Annuz, Muhammad Adhiyat, Ayu Laksmi, Bront Palarae.Arswendi Bening Swara, Dimas Aditya, Egy Fedly, Fachri Albar, Elly D. Luthan, Joko Anwar, Asmara Abigail, Fransiskus Vunom Allan Sebastian. (Indonesian dialogue)

More Film

  • Come as You Are review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are'

    The rare remake that’s actually a slight improvement on its predecessor, Richard Wong’s “Come as You Are” translates Geoffrey Enthoven’s 2011 Belgian “Hasta la Vista” to middle America. Other changes are less substantial, but this seriocomedy has a less formulaic feel than the original while remaining a crowd-pleasing buddy pic-caper with a soft-pedaled minority empowerment [...]

  • Strange Negotiations review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations'

    In a era when some mainstream entertainers have transitioned to targeting faith-based audiences, David Bazan is moving in the other direction. The gifted songwriter’s ersatz band Pedro the Lion was perhaps the most successful Christian indie rock act of its time, and the first to significantly cross over to secular fans. Then he ditched that persona (and [...]

  • Bluebird review

    SXSW Film Review: ‘Bluebird’

    As affectionate as a love letter but as substantial as an infomercial, Brian Loschiavo’s “Bluebird” may be of most interest to casual and/or newly converted country music fans who have occasionally wondered about the songwriters behind the songs. There’s a better than even-money chance that anyone who’s a loyal and longtime aficionado of the musical [...]

  • ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending for the Fourth Week in a Row

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the fourth week in row with “Wonder Park.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.18 million through Sunday for 1,718 national [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan Jordan Vogt-Roberts

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Team for Monster Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan is producing a creature feature, billiards champ Cisero Murphy is getting a movie, the sixth Terminator movie gets a title, and Graham King receives an honor. PROJECT UNVEILED More Reviews SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are' SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations' New Regency and Michael B. [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage to Star in Martial Arts Actioner 'Jiu Jitsu'

    Nicolas Cage will star in the martial arts actioner “Jiu Jitsu,” based on the comic book of the same name. The cast will also include Alain Moussi, who stars in the “Kickboxer” franchise. Dimitri Logothetis is producing with Martin Barab and directing from a script he wrote with Jim McGrath. Highland Film Group is handling [...]

  • Chinese success of Thai film "Bad

    Chinese, Thai Shingles Pact for Co-Production Fund at FilMart

    A deal to establish a 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) co-production fund between China and Thailand was struck at FilMart on Tuesday to help launch TV and film projects that will appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asian audience. The deal that was struck by China’s Poly Film Investment Co., TW Capital from Thailand and Thai [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content