Impetigore (2020) – drama/horror/mystery – Joko Anwar – Indonesia – 116 minutes – watch on Shudder
Say whatever you want about Joko Anwar, but he’s definitely not a lazy director: in the space of 32 months the guy wrote and directed three highly successful movies. After making a name for himself in the international stage with the horror film Satan’s Slaves (2017), Anwar’s strange superhero flick Gundala premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, receiving mostly praises. Now, his latest horror-mystery movie Impetigore debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was later distributed by Shudder.
As a fan of both Satan’s Slaves and Gundala, I have added Impetigore to my most anticipated horror movies of 2020 list and I was very excited to check this movie out. Anwar is an experienced filmmaker, with many titles on his resume, but only his latest three efforts have been granted an international release: whether his previous movies weren’t as good as his newest ones or they’re simply undiscovered gems, it’s clear that this is a talented filmmaker, which Impetigore only confirmed.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Impetigore (2020)
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Impetigore – plot and references
Satan’s Slaves, a remake of a 1980s Indonesian flick, was a thoughtful, slow-burning horror film. As proof of Anwar’s versatility, Impetigore works more as a faster-paced, urban legend-based homage to 70s and 80s Indonesian cinema. The ballistic nonsense that characterised the likes of Mystics in Bali (1981) and The Boxer’s Omen (1983) transpires in many scenes of Anwar’s new film. However, Impetigore adds an aura of seriousness to the goofier elements of the story and its presentation.
The film follows Maya (Tara Basro) who, after being attacked by a mysterious man with a machete, together her best friend Dini (Marissa Anita) goes to a remote, rural village to seek for answers as well as hoping to inherit a property from her rich family. As opposed to fortune, Maya and Dini find themselves at the centre of strange rituals and a creepy legend that could cost them their lives.
Small-town superstition and city naiveté
One of the elements highlighted the most by the story is the contrast between small-town beliefs and city-based rationality. Despite being mostly a straight cult/supernatural horror movie, Impetigore thrives in this duality, which is expressed through some very well-written dialogue and a presentation that shows without telling.
Such an interesting contrast is, however, sometimes lessened by the fact that Maya appears incredibly naïve, to the point of being unrelatable at times. In contrast, the residents of the village often come off as know-it-all exposition-driven caricatures: halfway through Impetigore, one of the only friendly characters from the village spends nearly five minutes to unveil the mystery to Maya, in a scene that is truly disappointing as it doesn’t leave much for the imagination.
Balancing mystery and horror
In this respect, the mystery aspect of Impetigore falls short as, after a compelling first half, things are revealed plainly and quickly to Maya and the audience. As opposed to a nail-biting, enthralling first 50 minutes, the second half of the movie becomes a straight possession flicks, with tons of scares but very little mystery.
The horror itself is very well-done, though. The camera-work, which relies on a strangely effective combination of sweeping movements and post-production zooms, truly delivers a sense of urgency and dread. The nightmarish colour palette completes the job, as it makes the viewers feel like they’re descending into madness. A few great, unexpected kills – presented in a matter-of-fact, detached way – are the cherry on top. If there’s an element that ruins the horror, it has to be the score: too loud, too trashy and, in general, overbearing and distracting.
Overall, Impetigore is another good film in Joko Anwar’s catalogue: it is well-shot, quite creepy and, for half of it, very mysterious. There are, however, quite a lot of elements that made me appreciate it less than his two previous efforts. For example, I much preferred the slow-burning build up of the first half to the hectic chaos of the second.
In addition, the script is very strong in terms of characters and storytelling, but it falls short when it needs to deliver information. In fact, it does that in a very obvious and lazy way, which kind of defeats the purpose of Impetigore’s subtexts. This is still a good horror flick despite its shortcomings, as well as a movie I would recommend to most of you.
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