Satan's Slaves


Reviewed by: Emilia Rolewicz

Satan's Slaves
"Hearing the horror before we see it creates a stretch of suspense that is always building to a terrifying reveal, and it pays off well." | Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

The Indonesian horror film Satan’s Slaves is a loose remake of a 1980 film of the same name which garnered a cult following due to its mysterious unavailability for many years. In the Western horror scene it’s recognised for swapping the usual Christian themes with Islamic ones. Joko Anwar’s 2017 version retains this aspect; just replace the standard priest-performed exorcisms with an Imam’s blessing and it’s practically your usual haunted house horror, Eastern-ised.

Although it has similar plot beats to a blockbuster horror, Satan’s Slaves also has its own uniqueness. It begins with a mother’s (Ayu Laksmi) record company royalties about to be cut off, and the family, with four children, realising they will have to stop the bank seizing their house. As supernatural occurrences build, it becomes clear that it’s not only the world of the living that will try to push them out of their home. The father (Bront Palare) expresses to his son Ian (M Adhiyat) - who is understandably spooked by their backyard graveyard - that the dead are harmless, the real danger is the living. He misses out the vital third category - the world of demonic entities that always dominates the horror genre.

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In Satan’s Slaves we hear before we see. Before the opening shot we listen to the grandma’s heavy asthmatic breathing, which is then matched with an image of her lying in bed several seconds later. It is, however, the mother and not the grandmother who appears to be bed-bound due to an unexplainable, debilitating illness. Once a successful singer, now the only noise she can manage is the ringing of a bell to call upon her children’s and husband’s help.

The horror of the upstairs is indicated when the daughter, Rini (Tara Basro), ascends upon hearing her mother’s bell ring, again, our first encounter with the mother being through sound rather than vision. Suddenly the camera is Rini’s point of view as she slowly walks up the steps to a barren looking landing, as though hesitantly investigating an unwelcome presence. This is paired with a foreboding humming which, throughout the film, continues to underscore the space and memories of their mother and maintains an ominous atmosphere. Hearing the horror before we see it creates a stretch of suspense that is always building to a terrifying reveal, and it pays off well.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of Satan’s Slaves is its most unintentional aspect, the sometimes comedic tone. At one point, in Scooby Doo-like fashion, we see the family through a doorway, running from a demon one way in single file, then suddenly turning and sprinting back in the other direction. Shortly afterwards, a strange cult looms in their graveyard garden and the father frustratingly asks who they could be, Ian responds with a line which would feel more at home in Carry On Screaming: “Definitely not our neighbours!” Oddly, moments like these which shouldn’t work somehow do and make it even more worthy of a viewing.

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2018
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Satan's Slaves packshot
A family find themselves haunted by the living, the dead and non-human entities.

Director: Joko Anwar

Writer: Joko Anwar, Sisworo Gautama Putra

Starring: Bront Palarae, Tara Basro, Endy Arfian, Dimas Aditya, Ayu Laksmi

Year: 2017

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: Indonesia, South Korea


Fantasia 2018

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