Fantasia International Film Festival Review: Joko Anwar’s supernatural horror SATAN’S SLAVES
There is a special place saved for films that pull the supernatural-horror sub-genre off successfully. The ones that manage to ease you into the supernatural elements so it feels part of normal life, without overstating and overcomplicating aspects – it’s just presented to you as a series of worsening events, to the point you don’t register what is happening because you are engrossed in the moment. This is what Satan’s Slaves manages to achieve, and has certainly set the bar for what I expect this sub-genre to deliver in the future.
Without seeing the other films released in Indonesia last year, it would still be understandable as to why Satan’s Slaves (Pengadbi Setan) was the best-selling Indonesian film of 2017. In this remake of the cult 1980 film of the same name, Joko Anwar takes Sisworo Gautama Putra’s work and reimagines it, adding new layers, twists and turns at every point. While the premise remains the same, the circumstances have shifted, and it’s all the more enjoyable for it – it’s one of those rare occasions where seeing the original won’t necessarily ruin the remake and vice versa.
In Anwar’s film, we see a financially struggling family, with a terminally ill mother, whose sickness appears to be bringing about all sorts of tweaky goings on within their rickety old house. It’s a haunting process on many levels, playing out tried and tested methods with perfect delivery. The classically implemented jump scares take place at times you least expect it, scaring the living hell out of the 4 kids in the process, with their terror jumping off the screen and sitting deep in the pit of your gut.
It’s an unnerving watch, the tension is palpable, I found myself scouring the background for things that could appear, attempting to implement an element of preparedness for the next scare but I was always caught off guard. These aren’t cheap pops, there is no need for excessive gore or unnecessarily loud noises; this is a carefully constructed horror that works hard to catch you out.
Those wanting something a bit more on the elaborate side will be appeased by the film’s conclusion, as the theatrical nature of the supernatural is explored to the fullest extent. It’s confusing to a point given some slight gaps in the story, it also feels slightly out of sync with the rest of the style of the film, but I assume that this was the point – to settle on a note so different that the chaos is emphasised to an unimaginable scale. Yet despite that, it still held together as a film, and whereas I would usually lose interest at this point, I found myself more invested than ever before.
Well worked scares, genuinely convincing cast, creepy kids, intense music and all shot in a way that really keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you are tired of the basic haunted house movies, the ones that frustrate you as the house is filled with idiots and deny all basic logic and common sense, then give Satan’s Slaves a go. You will not be disappointed.
Review by Mark Blakeway