The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - IMPETIGORE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - IMPETIGORE

impetigore review
A young woman returns to her childhood village in rural Indonesia, unaware that the locals want her dead.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joko Anwar

Starring: Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Marissa Anita, Christine Hakim, Asmara Abigail

impetigore poster

Indonesian writer/director Joko Anwar scored an Asian box office hit with his 2017 remake of what is perhaps his country's most famous horror movie, Sisworo Gautama Putra's 1980 cult classic Satan's Slaves. Indonesian genre cinema has come a long way from the campness of Putra's film in the last four decades, and Anwar's latest thriller, Impetigore, is as slick a production as any horror movie to roll off the modern Hollywood production line.

Anwar opens his film at breakneck pace with a sequence that would make for an effective horror short in its own right. Twentysomething toll booth workers Maya (Tara Basro) and Dini (Marissa Anita) are stationed in booths in different parts of the city, keeping each other company through endless chit chat over their cell-phones. Maya gets freaked out when the creepy sedan that she feels has been stalking her pulls up, its driver staring at her for an uncomfortable amount of time before a truck forces him to drive on. Maya's relief is short-lived however, as the sedan driver gets out on foot and approaches her booth, asking her questions that suggest he believes he knows her. He returns a second time, this time wielding a machete, forcing Maya to flee for her life, and just before he's shot by a security guard he delivers the ominous message "We don’t want what your family left behind."

impetigore review

Curious about the info delivered by the crazed man, Maya looks into her family history. Finding a photo in her late aunt's belongings, she begins to believe that she was born to rich parents in a rural Javanese village, and that she may have inherited their unclaimed house. Hoping this potential windfall will cure her financial ills, Maya sets off for the village with Dini by her side, unaware that the locals want her dead, blaming her family for a curse that condemns every new-born child to be born without skin.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Open 24 Hours ]

The first two thirds of Impetigore contain some of the most assured genre filmmaking of recent years. Anwar never quite repeats the adrenaline rush of his crackerjack opening sequence, but he does a fine job of escalating the tension as Maya and Dini unwittingly enter the jaws of a lion that wants to bite their heads off. A night-time bus ride sees Anwar use the dim light of the vehicle's interior to ramp up the paranoia, and with Maya seeing visions of three little ghost girls outside her window, we really get the sense that our female protagonists are on a journey into the heart of darkness.

impetigore review

Once in the village we're in the Indonesian equivalent of Deliverance territory, and Anwar explores a similar urban vs rural divide. An extra element here is that of the clash between modern secular Indonesia, as embodied by the sexually liberated Maya and Dini, who discuss male anatomy in a way no good Muslim girl should, and the superstitious traditions of the villagers. As the power dynamics of the village are revealed, Anwar seems to be using this well-worn set-up to comment on the hypocrisy of religious authority figures. Like another recent Indonesian genre hit, 2017's Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, it highlights how women have traditionally been scapegoated for society's ills by backwards belief systems.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Disappearance at Clifton Hill ]

Unfortunately, after such well sustained, mounting tension, Impetigore descends into clunkiness as it awkwardly explains its backstory in an extended expository flashback that punctures the thrilling wheel Anwar worked so hard to set in motion. There's also some confusing geography, which means we're never sure where our heroine is in relation to her tormentors, meaning we're never as worried for her as we probably should be. A closing shock sequence feels like a cheap and tacky addition.

impetigore review

It's a shame Impetigore goes out on such a whimper, because there really is some great work on display here. Anwar proves himself more than capable of competing with the best horror directors when it comes to crafting eeriness, and he's aided by cinematographer Ical Tanjung, who uses limited light sources and shadowy darkness to add greatly to the mood. Special mention must also go to leading lady Basro, who possesses a genuine star quality and has just the right mix of guile and vulnerability necessary for such final girl roles. If this collaboration doesn't entirely work, I'm certainly curious to see what this talented trio can deliver in future films.

Impetigore is on Shudder from July 23rd.

2020 movie reviews