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Movie Review: IMPETIGORE

I’ve only seen two Indonesian horror flicks, so I can’t fairly comment on the overall health and quality of the region’s horror industry. Especially considering how much I truly enjoyed both films. It would be like watching Halloween and Alien as your first two American horror movies and immediately declaring, “This country never makes a bad horror movie! They can’t miss.”

So I have to rein in my praise for Impetigore slightly. Only slightly. This movie is a bit of a banger. It has some of everything. To open, it features a tense slasher / thriller sequence involving a violent man and a woman–our protagonist, Maya–and a toll booth. Later the movie will feature ghosts, a decidedly decrepit and spooky house with its very own and entirely too-populated graveyard, secret-keeping murderous villagers, curses and sacrifices and rituals and more. It’s packed with so much, yet doesn’t feel crammed with all of this content. Somehow there’s sufficient room for it all. It’s quite an achievement.

Maya’s attack is preceded by her attacker somehow knowing her father’s name and suggesting her real name is actually Rahayu and that he knows what village she is originally from. This prompts her to return to that village, especially to seek her inheritance of a large and abandoned house that once belonged to her father. Given her current dire financial straits, this is sensible, even though, of course, there’s a risk involved considering the man who just tried to machete-murder her is also presumably from that village. This is pointed out by May’s friend, Dini, who insists on joining her on the trip to the village. Dini’s one of the film’s many small highlights. She’s funny and reasonably smart and you just know you’re going to be rooting for her to make as soon as she inevitably comes into some trouble.

On top of the village having a scary, unkempt and abandoned mansion effectively haunting it, it also has an abundance of little infant graves and an utter dearth of living children. There’s a reason for this, and secrets on top of secrets get revealed as the movie progresses to bring us back to the origin of a rather grim and gruesome curse afflicting the locals. It’s bad enough to make their murderous intentions understandable, if still unforgivable.

One of my favorite things about Impetigore, aside from the routinely strong performances, is the clever way it earns a couple of somewhat unnecessary but fun things that a lot of horror flicks just throw in seemingly because it feels like an obligation to have them. The first is a sequel hook–a couple of them actually. One, about an adult survivor of the curse, never comes back into play. It gets a mention to explain some of the actions taken by the villagers, and is tantalizing enough to make you think it has to feature in some way later, but it doesn’t. On one hand I admire this restraint. On the other hand, if this movie gets a follow-up, I’d like to see that explored.

The second concerns the obligatory, “The horror isn’t over” type of ending that is beyond cliche in scary movies by now. But here’s the thing, it’s actually properly set up and earned here, again serving a dual role both as foreshadowing of what’s to come and as an explanation for a certain character’s behavior. Specifically, it is the stated belief that killing someone to remove a curse only begets a different type of curse. It’s a simple and great touch that makes the final moments of the film much more enjoyable.

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I can’t think of significant drawbacks to the film 1 The acting is good all around. Terra Basro is great as the lead, Marissa Anita is likable as her friend, veteran actress Christine Akim is compelling as the town eldress, Asmara Abigail makes a great late push as someone who may or may not be trustworthy, and Ario Bayu has a great presence as thee co-villain and town shadow-puppeteer. If anything, my only disappointment with the film is that the shadow puppetry didn’t really bring anything directly frightful to the table in and of itself. I feel like there was an opportunity missed there, but I’m also coming at this from an ignorant Westerner’s perspective, so I don’t know if there’s a particular taboo against using that sort of thing for cheap thrills. If not, I’ll stand by my assessment that more could have been done with that, but that’s a nitpick. Likewise, the flashback sequence that shows us everything that happened years ago to lead to all of this horror is a little much, but still feels essential.

There are, otherwise, some well executed scares and shock moments. From seeing exactly what’s being hung up to dry on a clothesline to an abrupt throat-slitting that reveals who the biggest danger in town is, to a jump-scare involving a little girl’s ghost making a gorily convincing plea for help, the film is not short on frights and intensity and even emotion. Soon after this I’ll be looking at the remake of Satan’s Slaves, helmed by Impetigore’s director Joko Anwar. If it’s as good as Impetigore and my previous look at Indonesian horror, May the Devil Take You, I’m going to feel a lot more comfortable praising their entire industry’s horror efforts as a whole.

Final Verdict: Another banger from Indonesia. Between this and May the Devil Take You (which I liked even more on second watch) I’m starting to fall in love with what this country’s output has to offer.

  1. One that doesn’t apply to the film and therefore isn’t worth putting in anything more than a footnote is that the official poster–at least the one on Shudder–is pretty damn bad, at least conceptually. The execution could have saved it if it was an old school painting like you’d see on a classic paperback cover, but the Photoshop work that’s here instead is not doing the idea any favors.
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