Since parting ways after Headshot the former Mo Brothers have taken decidedly different paths. Timo Tjahjanto has found international acclaim with The Night Comes for Us and to a lesser degree, May The Devil Take You. Kimo Stamboel, on the other hand, directed the somewhat underwhelming DreadOut. He’s back now with The Queen Of Black Magic, (Ratu Ilmu Hitan in its native Indonesian). With a script written by Joko Anwar (Impetigore, Satan’s Slaves).
Hanif (Ario Bayu, Buffalo Boys) grew up in an orphanage. Along with his wife Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid, VHS 2) and their three children, Sandi (Ari Irham), Dina (Zara JKT 48) and Haqi (Muzakki Ramdhan, Gundala) he’s going back to pay his last respects to Bandi (Yayu Unru). Once there he’s joined by two of his friends from his days at the orphanage and their wives.
But what was meant to be a quiet reunion turns out to be anything but. The orphanage’s dark past is about to come back to haunt it, literally and figuratively. Secrets will be uncovered, and there will be blood, lots of blood. And centipedes, lots of centipedes.
Despite the title, The Queen Of Black Magic isn’t really a remake of the 1981 film of the same name. The connection between the two is in fact very tenuous. Rather than try to update the story or make it a period piece as he did with Satan’s Slaves Anwar used some of the original’s themes in a new and modern story. And it works quite well.
The first twenty minutes or so gives us an introduction to the film’s rather large cast and fills us in on some of their backgrounds. Then The Queen Of Black Magic starts to unleash the horror with two revelations within minutes of each other. The first concerning just what Hanif hit on the way to the orphanage. Then a scene I can’t imagine a mainstream Western film attempting lets us know just what we’re in for.
The Queen Of Black Magic doesn’t hold back on the violence. Or the kind of old school gross-out scenes involving all manner of creepy crawlies. The kind that vintage Hong Kong horror films were known for. Only the bugs crawling in and out of mouths and other orifices are CGI, not real ones. Though the ones seen simply crawling on people look like the real thing.
But The Queen Of Black Magic is more than just a simple gross-out film. The first act set up characters you care about. As a result, it manages to be incredibly tense and deliver real jolts, not just empty jump scares. The writer and director drew on images from religious comics, (the Islamic equivalent of Chick tracts), they saw in their youth for some of the scenes. The result is a final act that really got under my skin.
But amidst all the shocks and gore, as the plot peels back its secrets The Queen Of Black Magic reminds us that evil hides in plain sight. And greatest horrors are those that people inflict on each other. And it’s those kinds of horrors that spawned the supernatural carnage on display.
Not a film for the squeamish or the easily shocked, The Queen Of Black Magic reflects back on Stamboel’s earlier films such as The Killers and Anwar’s Ritual. Dark, nasty, and very violent. It’s currently airing on Shudder in some countries. If it’s not where you are it’s worth tracking down and seeing.