Joko Anwar showed his knack for genre filming and for breaking the box office from his debut, “Janji Joni“, and in the last two years, with movies like “Satan’s Slaves” (remake of the cult classic) and “Gundala” (with a new universe of superheroes, this time from Indonesia) has cemented both of this traits, even in an international level. “Impetigore” in particular, apart from Rotterdam, also screened in Sundance, a quite significant feat since the representation of Asian cinema in the particular festival is scarce, to say the least.

Impetigore” is screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam

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Maya works at a toll booth in Jakarta until one night she is attacked by a strange man with a machete, who seems to know a lot about her past. The girl barely survives but starts researching about what the man said, with her “investigation” leading her to a rural village in the woods, where she was born by parents she never met. Thinking that there might be a chance to make some money by selling a house that could belong to her, she ventures to the village with her best friend Dini. The inhabitants seem strange but are not exactly bad, but the girls soon realize that there are not any children around. A bit later, they stumble upon the local chieftain, a mysterious wayang puppet master and Ki Saptadi, her “enforcer” and start discovering the terrible past of the village. At the same time though, the villagers discover Maya’s past and soon all hell breaks loose.

Joko Anwar directs a film that begins as a thriller but eventually transforms into a horror/slasher, in a style that follows, quite closely the general rules of both categories. However, Anwar’s effort differs for two reasons. First, he does not base the scare factor on jump-scares (although some of those do exist) but on an overall atmosphere of horror, which he  builds masterfully only to shatter it completely as the violence kicks in. This aspect benefits the film the most, as the viewer gradually realizes something will go wrong, but the when and the how remain unknown, thus retaining the agony for the majority of the film.

The second reason is that Anwar has instilled the movie with a distinct local flavor, by using the concept of wayang puppetry, by having his characters speak with Jakartan accent in the city and Javanese in the village, and also by taking full advantage of the area the film was shot, creating a nightmare both through the house and the surrounding jungle-like environment. In that regard, he benefits the most by Ical Tanjung’s cinematography that portrays the various aspects of the terror with his usual excellence, and by Dinda Amanda’s editing, who speeds the pace up or down depending on the events, very fittingly to each scene, with utter precision. There is a part, when the past story is revealed, that seems to lag a bit, but even this “fault” is lost in the generally great atmosphere.

This combination of ritualistic and naturalistic terror works wonders for the film, and is also the medium which allows Anwar to make some comments about the (collective) past and how it can shape people’s choices, even leading them to horrific paths, almost without their will.

Tara Basro always had great chemistry with Anwar and “Impetigore” is not an exception, as we watch her portraying the varying aspects of her character with an artistry rarely met in the genre. In that fashion, her Maya functions quite well as a “scream queen”, as a naive opportunist and as a victim of her fate (literally and metaphorically) while she even manages to emit a sense of humor in this hellish setting, in another of Anwar’s distinct traits. Ario Bayu as Ki Saptadi manages to seem both scary and self-conflicted at the same time,

“Impetigore” is another proof of Anwar’s abilities in genre filmmaking, and one of the most intriguing horror movies of the latest years.

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My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.