My experience with Indonesian cinema is admittedly sparse, but when Shudder proclaims Satan’s Slaves to be
the international horror sensation, who am I to argue? (Setting aside the fact that Shudder is the film’s US distributor.)
In a sense, I do find the title misleading. Satan’s Slaves sounds schlocky, and while Satan may be at play, I didn’t see much in terms of slavery. Instead, this is a film in the school of Rosemary’s Baby and Hereditary, two titles I find pretty classy. Mia Farrow and Toni Collette? C’mon!
As with those movies, Satan’s Slaves’ base plot is fairly straightforward. Rini’s (Tara Basro) mother, a former successful singer, succumbs to a devastating illness she has been fighting for three years. Her family, all living in a single village house, is left broke, forcing the patriarch to leave for the city to put the house on the market. As soon as he departs, strange things start to happen. Is the mother haunting the house? Or is some other maleficent spirit at play? As family secrets and their ties to a Satanic cult start to surface, Rini must find a way to keep them all together and fight an impending doom.
Again, simple and a variation on something that has been done many times before. What sets Satan’s Slaves apart is that it manages to execute it with a style and substance, unlike many of its ilks. Writer/director Joko Anwar clearly had a very specific vision of what he wanted to achieve.
Take the house: At times, it feels labyrinth-like, and when what may or may not be unknown spirits appear, the family is chased like those hunted by a Minotaur. It’s a disorienting setting, all circling around in-house well. Satan’s Slaves feels downright mythological at times -- eerie without relying on too many jump-scares. It’s not always what you see that’s scary, but rather the feeling that something right off the screen is wrong.
Too, the non-supernatural parts are intriguing by themselves. It’s hard not to empathize with a likable family that at one point must have done reasonably well. On the flip-side, the comedic relief provided by the youngest son, Ian (M. Adhiyat), adds a suitable levity to all the dreariness. Satan’s Slaves works on many levels.
It’s not necessarily an original film, then, but the presentation and confident film-making make Satan’s Slaves stand out. For those into folk- or cult-horror, I would have a hard time not to recommend it.
I have seen Satan’s Slaves referenced as both a remake and prequel to the 1982 movie of a very similar name, Satan’s Slave. I have not had the chance to enjoy that piece of cinema, but based on this reboot, I say it’s probably a worthwhile endeavor.
Letterboxd summary: After the death of Rini's mother, something is disturbing her family.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||5/6|