Satan’s Slaves @ Fantasia Film Festival

A total old school scary horror film. Done Indonesian style. Actually it is a remake, co-written and directed by Joko Anwar (A Copy of My Mind, Ritual), of the 1980 film Pengabdi Setan. I never saw that film, but I can’t imagine it being much better than this one. Satan’s Slaves (what a great title!) is loads of fun in the jump out of your seat kind of way. It manages to retain that old school feel to it without ever feeling tired or giving the audience what they have seen a million times before.

A family, living in a remote house in the woods, is going through some trying times. Money is very scarce. They don’t have any extras and even have to resort to selling things to make ends meet. They still face the possibility of losing the house as the father (Bront Palarae – Headshot, My Stupid Boss) has had to remortgage it to raise some cash. The need for money is due to the fact that the mother (Ayu Laksmi – Under the Tree, The Seen and Unseen) has been very ill for a couple of years. She is in some sort of catatonic state as a result. Despite this they cannot afford to have her be in the hospital, so the family is taking care of her.

Most of the burden falls upon the eldest (and only) daughter Bini (Tara Basro – Killers, A Copy of My Mind) and eldest son Tony (Endy Arfian – 13: The Haunted, Parts of the Heart). The younger two boys, Bondi (Nasar Annuz – first film) and Ian (M. Adhiyat), are really no help and to be honest, a little scared of their mother.

After some weird things happening to the kids, the mother dies one evening. She is buried in the traditional Islamic way by Muslim cleric Ustadz (Arswendi Nasution – The Forbidden Door, Dead Time) and his son, Hendra (Dimas Aditya – The Clerics, Dear Love). Once she is buried some more strange things begin to occur making it seem like the mother is coming back from the dead to claim her youngest born child due to a deal made with the Devil.

Normally I don’t enjoy films that involve the living dead. Not because they creep me out per se, rather because I don’t find them worthy adversaries because they are usually so dumb and easy (in my mind) to evade. While you could argue that this is that type of film, director Anwar never allows any dumbness to creep into the affair.

It feels like the entire cast along with the director must have had a lot of fun making this film. This is largely due to all the dark humour that break up the moments of pure tension. This is the first nod to the 80s, but most certainly not the last. The mix of horror and humour. Deciding to keep it in the 80s was the perfect choice by Anwar. It allows for all that atmosphere of horror films of that time to be leaned upon. He goes to that well often, but never allowing it to wear out its welcome. It is an homage to horror films of the 80s and before without falling into the completely cheesy category. You will see nods to films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen here. It has a timeless feel to it.

Setting the mood plays a big part here. Anwar uses a deft touch setting up all the tension required in a film of this sorts. He has to make things creepy without going too far. Everyday items like a bell, a View Master, a radio, and even a portrait painting are rendered scary. All this is done successfully because of the great job turned in by the actors and the fact that the director keeps things rather simple. Never trying to stuff too much into the taut 107 minute run time.

Simple, but there is also plenty of depth here to explore. A film that almost demands multiple viewings there are plenty of things that are placed in rather subtly which require a couple of looks at. I am sure I missed things upon my first watch.

The film was a huge hit for Indonesian cinema. Released originally in 2017, it broke a ton of box office records. And why not as it has all the elements required to make it a shining example of its genre. Basically a story of a haunted house with elements of the supernatural, religion and horror. Tension is ramped up by the use of creepy music, dark rooms, long silent scenes, a well which reminded me of the one in The Ring, and people walking towards what you know is going to be trouble really slowly. If you are the type you will find yourself jumping out of your seat on a couple of occasions.

Fans of The Conjuring or Anabelle film series will enjoy Satan’s Slaves.