Written by: Adam Vaughn | July 22nd, 2020
Impetigore (“Perempuan Tanah Jahanam”) (Joko Anwar, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
As a film that is premiering in the U.S. on Shudder, Impetigore is a unique film that chooses an intimate setting to display its horror. Going against the mainstream flow of having monstrous or supernatural elements, the film takes its time to introduce and expose a plot about a woman named Maya (Tara Basro, Satan’s Slaves) who, after a man attempts to murder her, finds that she has inherited her estranged parents’ estate in a remote village. But what turns out to be an inheritance soon reveals itself to be much deadlier and dangerous.
At first glance, Impetigore appears as if it will devolve into a gory, cannibalistic storyline, but to my surprise and approval, the film remains very grounded in its story development. The beginning of the film creates two likeable main characters right from the start, and with good comedic dynamics between two friends, Maya and Dini (Marissa Anita, Solo, Solitude). From there, the film remains mysterious and creepy, but subtle enough to make the viewer wonder what comes next. And finally, as the plot reveals itself more and more, the tension increases in a cohesive manner.
The temptation with a film as grounded and down-to-earth as Impetigore is to force the creation of terrifying elements that do not necessarily tie into the main storyline (prime example is the unnecessary or illogical death scene meant to frighten or make the viewer jump in panic). With this film, terror begins with the viewer sharing the same viewpoint as Maya and Dini: from the outside looking in. As the two young women learn more about where they find themselves in the village – surrounded by vengeful villagers destined to break a curse – horror emerges from the sheer setup of location, stakes, and the main characters’ attempts to survive.
All the while, a story of heritage and “whodunit” is cleverly woven in with the horror sequences. Characters that are hardly ever seen (Maya’s parents for example) are mentioned throughout the film, and play a huge, integral part in determining Maya’s fate. Most importantly, these characters and plot points play a crucial role in the finale of the film, tying together the story in a satisfying conclusion, if not leaving the viewer slightly confused as to the rules of the curse plaguing this small village.
[In Indonesian, with English subtitles.]