Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Taps into deep, Jungian terrors and turns confusion into an asset." | Photo: Ical Tanjung, ICS

There's a select club of people who make feature films based on their dreams. It's a hard sell because whilst everybody likes the idea of tapping into the unconscious it's difficult to put numbers on that. In Indonesia, however, there's a bit more respect for this approach to storytelling than in the West, and Joko Anwar made such a splash with Satan's Slaves that it's comparatively easy for him to find backers. The result is a film which, though it it's narratively simplistic and suffers from a weak ending, has an emotive quality that is almost folkloric in character. It taps into deep, Jungian terrors and turns confusion into an asset.

Like Satan's Slaves, this is a film about a family legacy, though at the outset heroine Maya (Tara Basro) knows nothing of her family. She's been raised by a relative who is no longer around and doesn't even know what village her parents came from - until one night, whilst at work in a lonely motorway toll booth, she is stalked and violently attacked by a man who shouts about it, calling her by a different name. Later, when she's recovered and is working in a new job selling clothing with her friend Dini (Marissa Anita), she looks up the village, realising that she may actually be heir to a big house there - the windfall they need to get their business up and running properly. It's not far away so they hop on the night bus and head out there, passing themselves off as researchers so that they can stay for a few days and try to find out more before Maya makes her move.

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A isolated village in the woods. A mysterious family background. Locals who smile and nod and seem quietly suspicious from the outset. What could possibly go wrong?

The two young women are not wholly without caution, but they're used to having to take on a certain level of risk in order to do anything in life. Both are well drawn; we get a strong sense of who they are and of the friendship that has kept them together, though there are hints that sudden wealth could place that under strain. Though it's apparent early on that there's something odd about the village, they expect that they'll be dealing with community rivalries and malicious gossip. When things start to go seriously wrong, they - and, likely, the audience - are completely unprepared for the extremity of what they will encounter.

Anwar shoots in low light but always makes sure we can see what we need to. Once we reach the village, the colours of the forest are everywhere, even in the interior scenes, making it a character in itself. This adds to the sense that it could be impossible to escape and to the feeling that the human behaviours we witness - for all that they make sense psychologically - are manifestations of something more fundamental, less individual. In once scene, we catch a glimpse of a traditional shadow puppet play, and there's an implication that the people, too, are playing out their roles in some predestined drama - one which has a part for Dini whether she likes it or not.

In the Western tradition, the ghost story has generally focused on psychological scares and been quite austere where bloodletting is concerned. The new generation of Asian ghost stories happily combines its supernatural spookiness with extreme violence, which may divide genre fans but has begun to attract a devoted audience of its own. Impetigore is more cautious than some in this movement, never gratuitous with the gore, though not restrained either. As a result each bloody incident is rather harder hitting and contributes more effectively to our sense of the threat that Maya is facing. Though it may look chaotic on the surface, everything here is well thought through and demonstrates that, despite working with small budgets in a minority language, Anwar is more than capable of carving out a lasting place for himself in international cinema.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2020
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Impetigore packshot
An out-of-luck woman decides to go back to her secluded home village in hopes of inheritance. Little does she know, the villagers have been waiting for her because she's got what they needed to lift off a plaguing curse.
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Sundance 2020

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