Review: SATAN’S SLAVES (2017) – Cinepocalypse 2018

Indonesian cinema is mostly known now for its action films such as THE RAID and HEADSHOT. However, it also has a long tradition of genre films. From Barry Prima films such as THE DEVIL’S SWORD through grindhouse favourites such as MYSTICS IN BALI and LADY TERMINATOR, there is a wealth of titles for the curious. SATAN’S SLAVES (PENGABDI SETAN in its native language) seeks to recapture that heritage. A remake of the popular 1982 film SATAN’S SLAVE, (and set in the same year), it was a huge hit as well.

When their mother dies after a long illness and their father (Bront Palarae DUKUN) is forced to travel to find work. Rini (Tara Basro, IMPETIGORE, KILLERS) and Tony (Endy Arfian) are left to care for younger siblings Bondi (Nasar Annuz), and Ian (M. Adhiyat). Paranormal occurrences promptly commence, many of them centred around Ian.

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Things escalate quickly, with the mother’s malevolent spirit making frequent appearances. A Satanic cult is somehow connected to the children’s mother, and they plan to sacrifice Ian on his seventh birthday. Which is only three days away. A local cleric Ustadz (Arswendi Nasution) and his son Hendra (Dimas Aditya) become involved, but will it be enough?

Starting out as a straightforward ghost story, SATAN’S SLAVES builds the plot out as it slowly builds up the tension in a familiar way. In many regards, this isn’t that much different from a Western ghost story in its structure. The main difference being the events are rooted in Muslim rather than Christian beliefs. It’s also fairly tame in the gore department, apart from one rather shocking scene.

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But it does do an excellent job of delivering tension and scares. Writer/director Joko Anwar claims the original was the film that inspired him to become a filmmaker. And he’s done well by it. Some will be disappointed that it isn’t as bloody and unpredictable as his earlier horror film, RITUAL. But that approach would be wrong here. This is a nostalgic tribute to older films, and it works great as such.

SATAN’S SLAVES is currently on the North American festival circuit, including Cinepocalypse 2018. This is one to catch if it plays near you.

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