Review by Sean Boelman
Indonesia has a very healthy film industry, and every once in a while, the country produces a picture that breaks into more mainstream circles in America. Joko Anwar’s horror movie Impetigore hopes to be the newest border-crossing hit, and thanks to interesting ideas and some creepy imagery, it may have a good chance at doing so.
The movie follows a young woman who, along with her best friend, returns to her ancestral village after learning that she may be inheriting property, soon discovering that the villagers have something much more sinister planned for her. And while the xenophobic trope of villagers with less civilized tribal customs is worn out, Anwar uses them in a way that offers some interesting ideas.
Perhaps the most interesting sequence in the film comes at the one-hour mark as a series of flashbacks provides much-needed context to understand what is going on, and more importantly, why it’s happening. As a critique of people in power, particularly those with the power to indoctrinate others, the movie is absolutely fascinating.
That’s why, when the film largely abandons this commentary in favor of much more traditional family melodrama, one can’t help but feel like the movie is lacking in bite. While there are some very potent sequences, and a few truly disturbing images, the film tends to focus more on the conventions of the genre rather than the original ideas that Anwar brings to the table.
It also doesn’t help that the single scariest moment in the movie is at the very beginning. For the first ten minutes, viewers won’t quite know what they are watching, but their hearts will be pounding in anticipation. Unfortunately, by hitting the ground running, once Anwar must have to slow down his pace, it starts to feel underwhelming.
That said, Anwar’s use of atmosphere is certainly very interesting. There are a handful of moments that are reliant on gore, and they are certainly impactful, but more focus is put on creating a sense of discomfort out of the sense of anticipation that audiences will be feeling. One of the best tools it has is the music which, while a tad overpowering at times, is quite intense.
The actors also help the film work quite well by providing a strong emotional foundation for the narrative. Lead actress Tara Basro does a good job as the scream queen, with enough charisma to drive the movie. Her chemistry with co-star Marissa Anita is good, although Anita could have been better at delivering some of the comedic relief lines.
Impetigore may not come together to a cohesive finish, but in many ways, it is a satisfying watch. Short bursts of brutality and a sense of tension radiating through the film allow it to be adequately frightening.
Impetigore streams on Shudder beginning July 23.
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