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John’s Horror Corner: Satan’s Slaves (2017; aka Pengabdi Setan), the Shudder Original remake about an Indonesian haunting and a Satanic cult.

January 12, 2019

MY CALL: There’s nothing particularly original to be found here (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but it’s entertaining. This film is well-paced, rich with jumpscares, and good phases from scary to intriguing to more action in the end. MOVIES LIKE Satan’s Slaves: Not to be confused with Satan’s Slave (1980; the Indonesian take on Phantasm (1979) and for which this 2017 release is something of a remake) or the British film Satan’s Slave (1976). For more Indonesian horror, consider May the Devil Take You (2018; aka Sebelum Iblis Menjemput) or Kuntilanak (2017; aka, Ghost in the Mirror) for something more serious or Lady Terminator (1989) for a preposterously fun B-movie experience.

Writer (in part) and director Joko Anwar (Halfworlds, Ritual) approaches this Indonesian remake of the Satanic panic era classic Satan’s Slave (1980) in the same 1981 setting as the original. With her father struggling with the family finances, Rini (Tara Basro; Halfworlds) must be strong for her younger siblings and her terminally ill mother who is bedbound, practically mute and weakly chiming her bell for aid.

When the audience is in the horrorverse, there’s something particularly unnerving about bedbound terminally ill characters. Do they see evil spirits we cannot perceive? Are they the evil or possessed by an evil we should fear? I’m reminded of Annabelle: Creation (2017) and Pet Sematary (1989) in concept. Whatever the case, it lays a foundation of dread.

At first the horror imagery is typical to Asian haunting horror: horrified expressions on the face of the dead, creepy smiling ghostly figures, a well echoing dripping water and, of course, the continued ringing of the bell… after the mother’s death. For convenient flavor, Rini’s family lives next to a cemetery and the family’s poverty results in their loss of phone service as the father must travel for work—in combination, these factors credibly cultivate a sort of “cabin in the woods” isolation even though Rini seeks advice from other locals. In their father’s absence, they begin to suffer additional loss and trauma at the hands of an evil presence.

There’s nothing particularly original—in fact, one particular scene will remind you way too much of The Ring (2002) and the “living dead-ish” entities behave as we’ve seen them a dozen times before devoid of nuance. We enjoy standard jumpscare fare and, more often than not, we see it coming—but with good execution it feels far more fun than formulaic. In fact, the scares become quite frequent providing a jumpy-fun pacing to the film (it reminded me of Dead Silence (2007), but more eventful and considerably less terrifying).

The first act is heavily jumpscare-biased, then we shift into a more plotty portion of the film to pave the way for the quite eventful third act. We go over an hour with essentially no blood or gore, but there is one rather outstanding and gruesome death scene involving a truck which totally took me off guard (I was impressed). The effects focus more on the ghostly/undead appearance of these Asian deadite entities in the beginning—and they look good. Again, nothing particularly original and of highly familiar gestalt, but well-executed.

This was a fun watch and, for all the action and jumpiness, I’d recommend it for a low stakes Saturday night.

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