Indonesian genre kingpin Joko Anwar (“Gundala,” “Impetigore”) continues his run of hits with “Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion,” a juicy if slightly overstuffed sequel to his 2017 supernatural horror hit “Satan’s Slaves.” Set in a brutalist concrete apartment block that looks like hell on Earth even before ghouls and zombies start terrorizing the first film’s surviving family members, “Communion” serves up suspense, scares and gallows humor with considerable style. This handsomely mounted widescreen chiller is sure to lure plenty of eyeballs to streaming platform Shudder when unleashed in territories including North America and the U.K. on November 4.
Having enjoyed commercial and critical success for most of the nine features he’s directed since debuting with the delightful romantic comedy “Joni’s Promise” in 2005, Anwar’s stock has never been higher. “Communion” attracted 6.3 million local theatrical admissions in August, making it the third-highest-grossing Indonesian film of all time. “Satan’s Slaves” presently sits at number nine on the honor roll. Anticipation will now be high among Anwar’s sizeable fan base and 1.8 million social media followers after his April announcement of plans to adapt Charles Beaumont’s 1953 sci-fi-horror short story “Fritzchen” as his first English-language production.
Much larger in scope and scale than the 2017 film, a dynamic re-imagining of Sisworo Gautama Putra’s 1982 horror favorite, “Communion” arrives with an expanded backstory and clear evidence of groundwork being laid for the series to continue beyond this second chapter. While the setup for a third installment brings a little clutter and confusion that slightly detracts from the otherwise exciting finale, Anwar enriches the tale elsewhere with new story elements.
The best of these is an extended opening sequence set in 1955 which features Budiman (Egy Fedly), the journalist from the first film. After being escorted in secrecy to an isolated observatory, Budiman is shown the bizarre sight of corpses that have appeared out of nowhere and adopted praying positions. The incident is quickly covered up for political reasons but not before local police chief Heru (Rukman Rosadi) asks his friend Budiman to take photographs and reveal the truth someday.
From there, the story leaps forward to 1984. Budiman is still on the scene as editor of an “Unexplained Mysteries”-type pulp magazine but has kept his secret hidden. It’s also three years since the Suwono family fled horrifying supernatural events that resulted in the disappearance of youngest son Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat) after his grandmother and mother, Mawarni (Ayu Laksmi), a bedridden former singer, fell victim to zombies controlled by a satanic cult.
Convinced there’s safety in numbers, emotionally fragile father Bahri (Bront Palarae) has moved to a 14-story tower on the outskirts of Jakarta with his sturdy and sensible 25 year-old daughter Rini (Tara Basro, “Impetigore,” “Gundala”), sensitive teenage son Toni (Endy Arfian) and cheeky younger boy Bondi (Nasar Annuz).
No explicit horror is required to make us feel uneasy from the moment we set eyes on this government-built concrete monstrosity located in a flood zone and surrounded by nothing but barren fields. Widescreen images gliding around the creepy corridors, rickety elevators and dangerous stairwells of the poorly constructed and badly maintained structure are enough to keep viewers on edge while Anwar brings us up to date with the Suwono family. As TV news bulletins warn of a massive storm approaching we discover Bondi and his buddies have found gravestones buried nearby. We also learn of Rini’s desire to leave home and finally start living her own life as a college student. On a lighter and sweeter note, Toni has developed a crush on new neighbor, Tari (Ratun Felisha, “Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash”), a tough cookie with a tragic past.
The first 40 minutes is played in a deliberately low yet compelling key that concentrates on character and is interrupted only by a truly horrifying elevator disaster that many viewers won’t easily forget. With rain now bucketing down, electricity cut off and no way of correctly observing Islamic death vigils and funeral rites for the newly dead, Anwar unleashes his demons and zombies with all the zeal and confidence of a seasoned horror pro at the top of his game.
While shorter on jump-scares than might have been expected for this type of fare, “Communion” is long and highly impressive on sustained suspense and a brooding atmosphere of doom that recalls the golden age of 1970s and ’80s European horror movies. With dashes of dark humor cleverly injected into some of the most nerve-wracking sequences, “Communion” picks up the pace and delivers a scary good time as family members do battle with the newly undead and the malevolent force driving all this madness and mayhem.
A couple of subplots don’t add much, and the frantic finale squeezes in more information than is required to pave the way for a sequel. But these are relatively minor flaws in a film distinguished by DP Ical Tanjung’s (“Gundala”) exciting visuals, top-notch production design by Allan Triyana Sebastian, wonderfully gooey makeup design by Darwyn Tse (“Impetigore”) and convincing performances from a uniformly fine cast. By the time the Suwono family have concluded this encounter with the undead, most viewers will surely be looking forward to whatever nightmare Anwar might dream up for them next.