Impetigore (Movie Review)

Perhaps Indonesia isn’t the first country that one might consider as being at the forefront of new Horror, but Director Joko Anwar looks to change this with his latest, Impetigore, a Shudder Original that premieres on Thursday, July 23rd, 2020. Outside the U.S.? Don’t worry, the film will also be available on Shudder Canada and Shudder UK.

Down on her luck in the city, with her clothing kiosk failing to turn a profit, the victim of a vicious attack, Maya (Tara Basro: A Copy of My Mind 2015, Gundala 2019) decides to return to the village where she was born to locate the parents she never knew. All she has to go on are an old photograph and the words of her eerie stalker, who spoke of a village in Madiraja and seemingly knew her father. Never one to miss an adventure, Maya’s best friend, the unfiltered Dini (Marissa Anita: Solo, Solitude 2016, Folklore series), opts to tag along for the grand homecoming.

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If the pair thought that this was going to be a joyful reunion full of an abundant inheritance, they can think again. Upon their arrival in the tiny village of Harjosari, the pair are bombarded with one shocking discovery after the next, from a cemetery full of newborns who did not even have enough time on this Earth to be given names, to the realization that the townspeople do not appear to be big fans of Maya’s family. Then there’s the evasive village elder, Ki Saptadi (Ario Bayu: Java Heat 2013, Sultan Agung: Tahta, Perjuangan, Cinta 2018), an infamous Wayang puppet master throughout the region. Soon it becomes fairly obvious that the besties are going to have to fight to figure out what is happening before they are sacrificed to a purported village curse.

Writer-Director Anwar (Satan’s Slaves 2017, Gundala 2019) helms this Sundance 2020 Official Selection that goes heavy on the Supernatural. To get there, the film also employs the acting talents of Christine Hakim (Leaf on a Pillow 1998, Eat Pray Love 2010), Asmara Abigail (Satan’s Slaves 2017, Love for Sale 2018), Kiki Narendra (Gundala 2019, Tunnel series), Zidni Hakim (Catatan Si Boy mini-series, Taufiq: Lelaki yang Menantang Badai 2019), Faradina Mufti (Anak Garuda 2020, Guru-Guru Gokil 2020), Abdurrahman Arif (Ghost Island 2007, Tunnel series), and more.

Presented in Indonesian with English subtitles, Impetigore is not recommended for English speakers with a severe aversion to subtitles. In fact, at times, the conversations flow at such a fast pace that the subtitles can barely keep up. For non-native speakers, this requires dedication. So, you ask, is the film still worthwhile?

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Absolutely. Combining folklore and a throwback to ‘80s Slashers, Impetigore—originally titled Perempuan Tanah Jahanam—may fail to achieve its ultimate potential, but it still lands as a solid and enjoyable entry into the Horror field. Anwar accomplishes this with a truly eerie Folk score—by Bembi Gusti, Tony Merle, Aghi Narottama, and Mian Tiara—along with bleak imagery and the claustrophobia of a tiny, remote village in the forest.

Tasked with making this supernatural tale believable, Basro and Anita deliver stellar performances. Despite her amusingly tiny bladder, Anita’s Dini is somewhat brash at times, the friend who lacks a self-filter and speaks whatever comes to mind, from being reincarnated as a man-eating shark to questioning if God only speaks Arabic. Anita allows her Dini to be both unabashedly irksome and still wonderfully adorable, and she and Basro share an organic chemistry that leaves viewers to never once question their friendship. Sure, Dini is self-serving, but Anita and Basro’s antics always feel sincere to the interactions between two best friends.

In the leading role, Basro brings Maya to life with a zest that helps to overcome many of the film’s flaws. While we know enough about Maya’s past and present that she is not an entirely flat character, she is also not three-dimensional. The victim of an attack that links back to her native village, Basro’s character suffers from a string of hardships that leads her to suddenly question where she came from. This begins a snowball effect for poor Maya, who ends up forced to confront her greatest fears in Harjosari. In a role that is both emotionally and physically challenging, Basro has a grace to her performance that speaks above and beyond language.

Unfortunately, Impetigore is not without flaws. However, almost all of the issues that keep the film from achieving its utmost potential would be fairly easy to repair—namely it far overstaying its welcome at 107 minutes. Pared down, it would hit harder and maintain the intensity that it is able to achieve in its finest moments. In fact, there are two scenes involving characters being hung upside down that utilize a continuous shot that tilts in a circle, causing nausea, fear, and elevating the Horror experience. Coupled with the already gruesome subject matter, it’s clear that Anwar knows how to evoke a reaction.

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But there are also several issues with the screenplay, namely that it simply does not know when to quit. Heaping deals with the devil onto village curses that involve skinless children onto puppets made of flesh and psychic visions, Impetigore shows Anwar’s passion yet fails to cull the fat and refine his ideas. The end result of all of these sub-points is the same and changes nothing: what we have is a Horror film heavy on the supernatural. That said, it would have actually been creepier had the plot been pared down to focus on fewer skeletons in the collective Harjosari closet.

None of this is to suggest that Impetigore is one to skip. With his passion, Anwar proves that Indonesia deserves its place on the gory map of international Horror. Sure, the ending of the story gets a bit convoluted, and it takes some stamina to get there, but there’s a clear respect for all things Horror throughout—and some magical dustings of humor. In fact, we’re pretty sure that Joko Anwar could easily be the next Eli Roth. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Impetigore 3.5 of 5 stars.


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