Impetigore is one of those words that sounds scary, seems intriguing, and might be meaningful in all of its 10-letter glory. It’s the perfect title for writer and director Joko Anwar’s (Satan’s Slaves) latest Indonesian horror referred to as Perempuan Tanah Jahanam. The film’s original title “Woman of the Cursed Land” embodies the film’s solid plot, but the more elaborate title, Impetigore, chews on a more detailed genre piece that is just as chilling and complex as it sounds.
As a master of visual storytelling, Anwar readily incorporates cultural factors from his settings and characters which gives his supernatural tales a bizarre authenticity. The inherent horror of Impetigore is summoned when “After surviving a murder attempt in the city, Maya, a down-on-her-luck young woman, learns that she may inherit a house in her ancestral village. With her friend, Dini, Maya returns to the village of her birth, unaware that the community there has been trying to locate and kill her to remove the curse that has plagued the village for years. As she begins to discover the complicated reality about her past, Maya finds herself in a fight for her life.” Starring Tara Basro (Satan’s Slaves), Ario Bayu (Buffalo Boys), Marissa Anita (Folklore), Christine Hakim (The Golden Cane Warrior), and Asmara Abigail (Crossroads: One Two Jaga), this modern ghost story packs terror, gore, and talent into a very clever spot on the map.
Old Wounds Opened
When it comes to success in the horror genre, true quality lies in the narrative. A simple story works just as well as a complex one. Impetigore is a strange combination of the two, working an entertaining script to twisted writing all wrapped in a basic haunting story. Beginning with the initial issue of Maya’s inheritance following a traumatic attack and progressing into more intricate territory, Anwar is quick to throw moving parts into his narrative, but has a deft hand that allows them to exist in cohesion. Aiding the mounting ebb and flow of this mystery is an average heroine, her friend, and an ensemble of peculiar villagers.
Tara Basro puts on an able performance as a young woman not only lost in a bewildering setting, but one that goes from selfish to responsible over the course of some horrendous events. Basro as Maya, uncomplicated by romance or other shallow character features, has a decent development with a naïve likability that keeps viewer concerns on high alert. Marissa Anita as Dini is a prime source of comfort to both Maya and the viewers providing some comedic relief and the always silenced voice of reason and suspicion. As Maya grapples with her identity and subsequent fate, parental roles, sacrifice, and influence are questioned which grounds one of the film’s most unequivocal themes in a common reality that reaches all walks of life.
“…bears grave cut-throat violence and supernatural darkness that deliver the horror.”
Impetigore’s initially direct characterization does well to ease into the narrative’s eventual compounding of backstories. Granted, the film somehow seems to feel longer than its real runtime, but no moment is wasted on frivolous additives. The original screenplay is met with twists gently paced following the second act which helps push the thrills and urgent sense of resolution forward. The exposition is fairly timely before jumping into Impetigore’s engaging conflict. The way Anwar introduces and connects his moving parts is really something special. His intentional withholding dances around the substantial horror elements, slowly emerging in a fantastic effort to maintain attention and care.
Whether viewers see the twist and turns coming, they all move together to support this comprehensive marriage of basic and complicated content. Impetigore’s narrative is so well-written and fresh that the themes and meanings do not saturate nor take away from the film’s ability to entertain. Viewers will see the effortless plot of Impetigore unfold and organically invoke a dramatic web of secrets that all piece together in ultimate ghastly synergy.
Dead People Are Just Dead People
If there is one thing to be said about Joko Anwar, it’s that he knows how to draw out some serious suspense and has no fear of depicting physical horror for all to see. The opening scene of Impetigore is especially harrowing as Maya is attacked by a man while she works a toll booth, which uses light and odd claustrophobia to close in on her as he approaches. From there, the terror builds slowly within the second act as Maya and Dini explore the village as well as the large house that promises spiritual hauntings from the moment they enter. Anwar has a beautiful, eerie way of making viewers think there is doom around every corner they see and, oftentimes, they’re right. When the plot thickens, so does the gore.
As Maya and the viewers learn about the curse, who suffers from its hex, and how they suffer, Impetigore takes on a more visceral kind of horror that is not reserved only to ghostly specters. The visuals do not shy away from the ugly nor the unorthodox including some scenes of infanticide that made me temporarily lose my breath. Nothing is gratuitous and always positioned with taste, but I could not look away because of Anwar’s daring stretch to really go there. The narrative and spiritual superstitions come down to a notion of blood for blood and while the film is not particularly bloody, it is exceptionally gory. Impetigore has a way of not only getting under your skin, but scaring you right out of it.
“…maintains a unique feel of gothic horror from its variation in storytelling factors to its haunted house atmosphere.”
Anwar’s bold way of showing it all is balanced well with what viewers do not see. As the mystery behind Maya’s lineage is revealed, a lurking presence is born and survived by ominous music. The subtle spine-tingling soundscape grates effectively on the senses without actively taking over the visuals. Creepy slow music presents impending frights while heart-pounding, slow-burning scares materialize. Anwar knows how to land a jump scare, but never takes advantage of his carefully placed edges. Visual effects artist Abby Eldpie has proven herself to be a new and exciting addition to the genre as her knack for producing some crafty images is both obvious and generally impressive. The visual effects of Impetigore utilize space and timing well to keep the circumstances daunting and lively.
There are some instances of hinky digital applications when it comes to spirit appearances which do more to detract than they do to enhance, unfortunately. Luckily, they are bearably far and few in between being the sole surface flaws of the film. The real high caliber special effects are found in the film’s practical pieces and dynamic graphics. A slight tinge of body horror is prevalent and allows for just enough gore exposure without becoming obnoxious or jarring. Whether it is out in the open, insinuated with imagery, or detailed in the dialogue, Impetigore bears grave cut-throat violence and supernatural darkness that deliver the horror.
A House Of Disease
The setting of Impetigore, from the location to the set pieces, is an active element that equally houses the plot and facilitates the significance of the environment. Impetigore maintains a unique feel of gothic horror from its variation in storytelling factors to its haunted house atmosphere. The overgrown greenery and vast landscape surrounding the Harjosari village gives Anwar much to work with as he is able to fit slow carrying movements and tonal long shots to the film’s frightening composition. The camera has an interactive mind of its own, seemingly voyeuristic at times as it follows Maya, draws viewer’s eyes, and travels off on its own entirely. The direction steals focus from time to time which keeps us on our toes as the horror takes place.
Propelled by some incredible symmetry and framing as well as brilliant instances of angling, Anwar gently flexes his artistic muscles while still executing a great story. The dim lighting and musky glow looming in many of Impetigore’s scenes and Anwar’s play with lighting sets the dark atmosphere in a natural coating brought on by the village’s earthy surroundings. Silhouettes become a malleable charm that Anwar uses to perpetuate flair and function. The shadow work, both deliberate and proper, is reflective of the village’s sinister aura and crafty medium.
“Impetigore checks off the list of all appealing horror necessities and even adds a few new ones that viewers would never expect to want.”
Maya’s family home becomes the central nervous system of the plot and almost a character itself. The building is huge, covered in foliage, old and unclean as it’s said the residents abandoned it in a hurry which only adds to its damning allure. Maya and Dini must travel a long way into an unchartered forest to get to the house and the Harjosari village as it becomes an isolated, but occupied space. The two women hope to use the estate to collect an inheritance and start a new life, escaping the poverty that consumes so much of the Indonesian population. Anwar uses the women’s desperation as a tool to drive the motives and mechanics of the plot, but also as an element to illustrate this particular demographic and the unpleasant conditions they inhabit.
Fending off “creeps”, job-hopping, and telling lies are everyday qualities these women inhibit in order to survive. The secluded village, led by an elder who is appropriately a “puppet master”, is controlled by superstitions and a dangerous mob mentality that is based in an alarming reality. The setting presents a clear threat and fields the location’s temperamental culture. The tense mindset and hostile environment adds a layer of emotion to Impetigore that naturally grows with the film’s mysteries and revelations. It’s important for a film’s setting to suit the narrative, but Anwar fastidiously infuses the two with such appreciation that their relationship reaches a brilliantly mutual cinematic value.
Joko Anwar proves he can simultaneously create some pretty horrifying assets while pulling the strings in the background to craft a story that will certainly entertain the crowd. Impetigore checks off the list of all appealing horror necessities and even adds a few new ones that viewers would never expect to want. Like Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore is another tremendous addition to the genre that will expose viewers to a different part of the world and the horrors that transpire at the hands of diverse beliefs. Impetigore is fun, wicked, mean, and touching with a surprising ending that produces a good-humored kick you saw coming all along, but still did not anticipate.
Joko Anwar’s Impetigore is now exclusively streaming on Shudder. Are you a fan of Joko Anwar’s work? Did you enjoy the twists and turns of Impetigore? What did you think about the film’s visual effects? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!