Horror audiences have been impatiently awaiting The Conjuring 3 or one of its planned spin-offs; The Nun, The Crooked Man, Mrs. Warren and the Old Clock (okay, I made that last one up), since the previous installment of the franchise in 2016. Few films have been able to rattle movie-goers with the same vigor as James Wan’s paranormal spookshow-turned-series. And, with the release date of The Nun getting pushed farther and farther into 2018, the impatience is growing. Don’t fret, haunted house fanatics. Satan’s Slaves is the film to satiate your fiendish thirst.
An effectively terrifying ghost story, Indonesian horror Satan’s Slaves follows all of your standard paranormal tropes. An isolated farmhouse, easily spooked children with absentee or skeptical parents, and a heck of a lot of jump scares.
Written and directed by Joko Anwar, Satan’s Slaves is a remake of the 1980 film of the same name, whose plot has been described as loose interpretation of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm (1979). The film opens with a backstory on famous singer Mawarni Suwono (Ayu Laksmi), who’s fallen bedridden with a mysterious illness. Unable to perform, or well, do much of anything apart from ringing a terrifyingly creepy bell in the darkness, Mawarni’s royalty cheques have dried up – leaving her large, struggling family in a bit of a bind.
“An effectively terrifying ghost story[..]”
With their matriarch bedridden, their father (Bront Palarae) tries his best to help keep the family afloat. That puts the primary care-giving on the weight of the two older children, the kind and loyal Rini (Tara Basro) and slightly younger Tony (Endy Arfian), who spend much of the film minding paranoid young Bondi (Nasar Annuz), and the outgoing, mute Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat).
The film doesn’t hold off on the scares. Audiences are treated to quite a daring buffet of imagery early on as the family each experience a few probably paranormal experiences in their rustic, rural home. Including; a dreamlike sequence where Rini is haunted prematurely by her mother’s death, waking from the nightmare only to experience the haunting scene for real as it plays out again nearly identically, ending in Mawarni’s death.
With their financial options exhausted, Dad leaves his young family in the care of wheelchair-bound grandma Rahma Saidah (Elly D. Luthan). But she isn’t the only set of eyes on the children. In addition to some disembodied, sheet wearing spooks, it appears mother Mawarni isn’t ready to depart the land of the living. (Darn that creepy bell!)
As the kids desperately try to unravel a fiendish plot against their family, they must work quickly lest there be no remaining members to protect.
“Satan’s Slaves is relentless in its scares, serving up sequence after sequence of eerie, other-worldly visuals fit for an entire franchise, let alone a standalone feature.”
Satan’s Slaves is relentless in its scares, serving up sequence after sequence of eerie, other-worldly visuals fit for an entire franchise, let alone a standalone feature. Though many of the frights were fresh and gasp-worthy (which I won’t spoil here), there were also some that felt very familiar. A long, black haired spectre (The Ring), an extended viewfinder jump scare (Insidious), adventures in a creepy old well (also The Ring). And though we eagerly embrace these scares one after another, the action does seem a bit languished. The terror is allowed to extinguish on-screen by too long a glance, or too liberal an edit.
The plot too also seems to be not a high priority in the second-half of the film. I found myself trying to wrap up the story alongside the protagonists, but too many ghouls and goblins deflected from a solid understanding of the lore. As the film sauntered to a close, I found myself questioning how we got from point A to B, and C felt a complete curve-ball entirely.
But, all scares subside. While audiences were allowed (briefly) to settle into their seats, we were treated with one of the best horror soundtracks to ever accompany a haunted house. With a mellow, 60’s vibe, the Indonesian pop theme infected the film on the grooves of a crackling record. The track is titled ‘Kelam Malam’ from the band The Spouse. The entire soundtrack is available on Spotify, but definitely don’t dare play it backwards.
We caught Satan’s Slaves at the 2018 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. Stick around Nightmare on Film Street for even more festival coverage, and check out our Twitter and Instagram pages for highlights from the event.
Satan’s Slaves was initially released to Indonesian audiences in 2017, and has since rolled out to 42 countries. The film is still on the festival circuit here in North America.