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Review: Impetigore (2019)

Joko Anwar followed up his hit Satan’s Slaves by writing and directing the comic book adaptation Gundala. And by writing the script for Kimo Stamboel’s The Queen of Black Magic. Now he’s made a full return to the genre, writing and directing Impetigore.

Maya (Tara Basro, Killers) and her friend Dini (Marissa Anita) work the night shift as toll collectors. That is until the man Maya claims is stalking her proves her right by attacking her with a machete. The police kill him, but not before he cuts her leg open and utters a weird message about her family.

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This gets Maya curious about the history of the family she barely knew. Her parents died when she was young, and the aunt who raised her is gone as well. But it seems they have a large, and abandoned, has in the small town of Harjosari. She and Dini travel there with an eye towards selling the house off. As is usually the case, the villagers are unfriendly and there’s talk of a curse. Also, there aren’t any children in the village.

Anwar takes the family curse plot and gives it a nice build-up through the film’s first half. Impetigore clocks in at about an hour and fifty minutes, so he has a bit of time. He amps up the creepy feel of the old house and the strange, menacing nature of the villagers. I was beginning to wonder if there was anything supernatural going on. Or if it was all in the minds of the superstitious villagers.

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The second act answers that question and more. After the restrained build-up of the first half, Impetigore lets loose here. There are ghosts, gore, and, most unusual for an Indonesian film, a bit of sex and nudity. With its overt shocks and much faster pace, the second half of the film is the opposite of the first. Much of it centres around an impressively shot torchlight hunt through the forest as the villagers, and a trio of young ghosts, hunt for Maya.

I should take a moment here to give some praise to cinematographer Ical Tanjung (Foxtrot Six) who not only does a great job with that scene but throughout the film. He manages to generate loads of atmosphere and really brings out the creepiness of the film’s sets and locations. Which helps to cover for some of the film’s slower spots.

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Overall though, Impetigore is solid apart from those moments and a few bad decisions. Would you go to a village whose inhabitants were coming looking for you with machetes? Or not take an abandoned and still running motor scooter to get away and instead run through the jungle? But, as dumb moves by characters in horror movies go, they’re not that bad.

Joko Anwar is one of the best directors working in horror today. Impetigore may not be his best work, but it’s still better than most of what’s out there. It debuts on Shudder on July 23rd. For release dates for other countries, check the film’s Facebook page.

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