Director: Joko Anwar
Starring: Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Marissa Anita, Christine Hakim
Run Time: 107mins
Prolific, genre-hopping director Joko Anwar returns to the horror genre after making a name his big mark in the genre with his 2017 remake of "Satan's Slaves." Much like in that film, there is also plenty of supernatural goings-on in "Impetigore."
Before we get to any of that, though, the film starts with a much more real-world threat as our protagonist Maya (Tara Basro) survives an attempted murder attempt. An attempt which leads her to discover her something about her roots and leads her back to the village of her birth to investigate a possible lucrative inheritance. The aforementioned murder attempt is a great opening sequence. Heavy on atmosphere and absolutely crackling with tension. It also perfectly sets up a plot full of intrigue.
Unfortunately, the opening scene is also the highwater mark as nothing that follows; it can muster quite the same intensity or slow-burn terror. Not to say, there are not other great moments here. There are, and Anwar clearly knows how to build an atmosphere. But it does set up the expectation this is going to be an excellent film when instead it is merely a good one.
That said, there are several highlights here. Possibly chief amongst them is the performance of "Satan's Slaves" star Basro who once again shows off her "scream queen" chops. However, that is possibly underselling her performance, which manages to strike a fine balance between vulnerability and toughness. Never lapsing into hapless horror victim nor falling into that other horror trope of transform from an everyday person to ultra badass in a heartbeat.
Another key strength, as mentioned before, is the atmosphere. Anwar makes the film feel claustrophobic and suffocating. When Maya and her best friend Dini (Marissa Anita) go back to the former's ancestral village, the viewer is made to feel just quite how isolated and cut off they are. Of course, the classic city folk v country folk set-up is nothing new, but, for a western audience, the Indonesian setting gives it a unique flavour. The use of shadow puppetry increases this unique flavour, the village elder Ki Saptadi (Ario Bayu) is a puppet master, which is used to wonderfully creepy effect.
Not everything is quite so unique, though, as there are several borrowed elements from various haunted house and slasher films. Such as our heroine being chased by torch-wielding villagers or the use of creepy little girl spirits. Who looks exactly like the creepy little girl spirits any horror fan has seen a thousand times before. While Anwar is sure-footed when it comes to atmospheric horror and knows his way around a gory set-piece, he is less sure when it comes to jumps. As there several jumps (both fake-out ones and real ones) that come off as predictable and flat.
Plus, with the exception of Maya, Ki Saptadi, and his deranged mother Nyi Misni (Christine Hakim), few of the characters leave much of an impression. Some because it is easy to see what their fate will be. Some because they only seem to exist to provide exposition. And some because there is simply nothing to them.
There is also a tendency for proceedings to grind to a halt as we get a sudden information dump. Thankfully, there are enough spine-tingling instants of atmospheric horror and some genuinely gruesome moments that mean this never capsizes the movie.
Overall: There are a number of generic moments here, and the film never really lives up to its nerve-shredding opening. However, it also has a cracking central performance, a unique visual style, and some suitably grisly moments, making it still very much worth checking out. Plus, it should further cement Anwar as one of the more exciting horror directors working today.
"Impertigore" is now available on Shudder