★★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Ghosts, doomed villages, tortured family dynamics, the blackest of black magic, and thousand year old Javanese curses all come home to roost in the latest spookfest from Joko Anwar. Possibly (read: possibly) the best horror film director out currently, Anwar knows his way around a story, cinematic shots, and the creation of truly sympathetic characters.
Directed by Joko Anwar.
In his latest film, Impetigore, Anwar sets out for the deepest, steamiest, and darkest recesses of rural Indonesia. In one of the best, and certainly most intense, opening scenes in recent memory, the film begins by introducing two hyper-likable 20-somethings biding their time in the most mundane of all jobs — toll booth workers. Maya (Tara Baraso, Satan’s Slaves) and her goofy pal Dini (Marissa Anita, Folklore) are confronted by a man who continues to specifically stalk Maya’s tool booth. After several days of stalking he eventually confronts Maya with a machete and cuts an already cut incision in her leg and then in complete panic declares “We don’t want what your family left behind. Please take it away…”
Maya comes to the realization that her family had orphaned her in a rather peculiar way, she really might have been born as an entirely different person, and that she might just be in line to inherit and nice little estate in rural Indonesia. She and Dini, ever poor and looking for a couple extra bucks, set out to figure out the mysterious circumstances behind Maya’s childhood — and boy does it get mysterious.
Upon arrival at one of the more depressing and morose villages, Maya and Dini come to the quick realization that this hamlet is off kilter in a mighty off-putting way. Forced to contend with the fact that the villagers are unlikely to provide them with any meaningful information about the Maya’s potential inheritance windfall, they decide to squat at the beautiful estate at the center of town that Maya may/may not in fact be inheriting.
Maya and Dini are slowly let in on the fact that this village is damned, the children of the village are born skinless (yes, you heard that right, SKINLESS), and Maya may/may not be the antidote to this black magic curse that’s befallen this downtrodden burg.
Anwar is so exceptionally skilled at the art of suspense, the rise and fall of a story, and the depiction of horror that’s so gruesome it’ll have you wondering whether you actually saw it on the screen or dreamt it. The cinematography is brilliant and an almost intangible mix of natural lighting, beauty, and dark and shadowy oddities. For westerners this translates to a gory mash up of Ti West’s horror story telling and Robert Eggers’ eye for folkloric visuals.
Don’t sleep on Impetigore. Don’t be turned away by the fact that it’s got subtitles and a fairly complex black magic story. Stick with this beauty. You’ll be handsomely rewarded with nightmare fuel for years to come. In the end Joko Anwar gives you all you’ve ever wanted from a horror film.
Impetigore is a pretty hard R rating and it’s currently streaming on Shudder.