★★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Kimo Stamboel
In the latest installment of “If you’re not watching Indonesian horror movies, you’re blowing it,” brings us 2020’s The Queen of Black Magic. It’s true. Indonesia is the new incubator for the creepiest crawlies that the horror genre has to offer. Every country has had their day in the sun. The UK plastered us with Hammer and Amicus throughout the 1960s. The US reimagined the genre with slashers and super killers throughout the 1970s and 80s. And Japan brought a whole new slate of water and hair-borne frights in the late 1990s and in to the early 2000s. Now it’s Indonesia time to shine.
Don’t be confused, this Queen of Black Magic is not the 1981 gonzo Indonesian film of the same name (Ratu Ilmu Hitam). While there’s a wonderful homage to its predecessor in the closing credits, this film largely differs, save for one of the main characters, Murni. In 2020’s The Queen of Black Magic, director Kimo Stamboel follows a young family on their way to an orphanage where the patriarch of the family was raised. The father and main character Hanif (Ario Bayu) returns to his orphanage to meet up with two of his “brothers” to pay their respects to the dying man that raised them all, Mr. Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru).
Hanif and his wonderfully Spielbergian family, punctuated by their inquisitive son Haqi (Muzakki Ramdhan), are involved in a accident on the way to the orphanage. While they suspect they’ve hit deer, they’ve actually run in to something far more sinister. The family arrives at the orphanage and director Kimo Stamboel deftly and slowly unfolds the mysteries of the Hanif and his two brothers, their former friend (the aforementioned Murni), and their former house mother, Ms. Mirah.
Written by one of the greatest Indonesian horror exports, Joko Anwar (director of Impetigore and Satan’s Slaves), The Queen of Black Magic gives you hints of what’s to come, shows you each character’s weaknesses and foibles, and then when the dam breaks open it’s rife with gore, creepies, crawlies, peculiar disabilities, and sadness. There are few jump scares, and instead director Kimo Stamboel leans on a droning and horrifying music score mixed with constant dread, doom, and the inability for Hanif and his two brothers to correct the pain that they may have incorrectly dealt.
The Queen of Black Magic, while nearly perfect, saves a complex bit of exposition towards the later part of the film. Certainly it’s critical to disclose this information, but it also has the unfortunate effect of slowing the intensity of the film. The importance of the family unit, the perceived family unit, modesty, the fragility of children, and personal relationships all come to pass in a dismal and sorrowful way. Even though the black magic part is largely left to your imagination, you’ll be hard pressed to find a scarier film in 2020. You can try to find a scarier film, but we guarantee it’ll have a lot less bugs in it.
Queen of Black Magic is a solid Rated R and currently making its way through the film festival circuit.