Sundance 2020 – Impetigore

There’s a Kenny Powers quote that resonates with me that, to paraphrase, goes: “I got two hard rules I live by. I don’t fuck with the devil, and I don’t do tag-teams with blood relatives.” I’d like to add a third to that for me personally: I don’t ever pass up an Indonesian genre film. Whether it’s action (The Raid films, The Night Comes for Us) or of course, horror (Killers, Safe Haven, Satan’s Slaves), you can always trust that an Indonesian genre will go all out. There are no half-measures with them. Trust that you will see things you won’t soon forget in Impetigore.

Impetigore follows Maya (Tara Basro), who discovers she may have a family fortune to inherit in a remote village from her childhood that she has no memory of. 

Writer/Director Joko Anwar lets you know pretty quick that this film is not for the faint of heart, staging an absolutely unsettling opening scene that continually ups the danger and tension. The reveal of a machete really takes the sequence up a notch. He knows how to craft a good scare and knows when to be patient with it, consider the shot of a figure slowly coming down a hallway towards an unsuspecting Maya. It takes forever for the figure to arrive close to Maya, amping up the tension. There’s a gothic quality to the look of the film, steeped in fog and candlelight that really contributes to the inherent spiritualism of Indonesia and the horror specific to them. 

When I say there are some shocking moments, I mean it. You’re going to see some crazy shit here. There is a lot of blood and a lot of scenes involving skin and its removal. Whenever I thought the movie might have played its last shock card, Anwar kept pulling out more. He got an audible shout from me, as well as much of the audience at one shock involving skin getting ripped off. The insanity is buoyed by committed performances from the cast, with Basro continuing to prove her adeptness in the horror genre. As the movie is explaining it all in the third act, there are things that don’t really add up when you stop to think about them, but it doesn’t matter. The film is too damn fun to really care about that. 

I was a big fan of Joko Anwar’s terrific Satan’s Slaves, and I think I might even like this one more. It’s unrelentingly thrilling and terrifying. It’s just really a true blast. I’ve really enjoyed this new wave of Indonesian genre cinema we’ve experienced over the past decade, with Anwar undoubtedly asserting himself as one of the movement’s titans. In American cinema, we don’t have the same relationships with ghosts and spirits that seems to be prevalent in Indonesian and other Asian horror, where ghosts are sort of matter of fact. The existence of them is embraced. This element has such a magical impact on these films, in that they could only come from these filmmakers and these regions. What I’m trying to say, is that these filmmakers are doing things you would simply never seen in American cinema. You can’t get these films and their horror anywhere else. Go seek these films out, you won’t regret it. I look forward to several more Indonesian genre films, and several more from Anwar.

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