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Christine Hakim and Ario Bayu appear in <i>Impetigore</i> by Joko Anwar, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Movie Reviews

Sundance 2020: Impetigore Review: Indonesian film proves horror is universal

‘Impetigore’ proves that good horror movies cross boundaries.

Horror films are not just limited to the United States. An excellent example would be Japan. J-Horror is an incredibly popular sub genre. The Ring and The Grudge are two movies that were brought overseas and proceeded to do very well. Indonesia’s film history dates back to the early 20th century. Horror has always been a part of the market and in recent years has seen greater box office acceptance.

Director Joko Anwar has been a big part of the growing horror scene. Though he has found success in a variety of genres, Anwar’s scarier movies have done particularly well. His latest release Impetigore topped the box office in Indonesia. The film is about a woman named Maya who tries to uncover facts about her past after nearly being killed. Her search leads her to a cursed village, shadow puppets, and a truth she may have wish she left undiscovered.

Impetigore leans into Indonesian culture. At the heart of the story are the use of shadow puppets. This tradition (wayang) is considered an art form. In Anwar’s movie, it takes on a much more sinister role. The story does a great job of weaving in the culturally specific puppet theater into its a macabre tale. Anyone who watches the film will be able to appreciate what is happening.

Anwar does this throughout his movie. It is clear he is visiting old superstitions and folklore. Impetigore is a standard ghost story, for example. There are curses and betrayal and things that go bump in the night. But what the director does so well is what separates his movie from similar ones in the genre. He has not just made a film that is based on old stories. He has crafted a tale that will cross all boundaries.

One way Anwar does this is through great writing. The dialogue flows smoothly. The initial conversation between Maya and Dini immediately draws the audience in. They sound like two people you know having a conversation. They are very likable and easy to root for. The villagers are appropriately paranoid and dangerous. Even in the movie’s wildest moments, the characters have a down to earth quality. Impetigore does not fall into the horror movie trap of having outlandish characters that take away from the scares.

Impetigore is also well paced. For the most part, the movie moves at breakneck speeds. Thankfully, Anwar never forsakes the plot. Whether it is Maya and Dini having a quick exchange or a backstory filling flashback, the audience will never be left behind. There is especially impressive since the plot does ask viewers to take a lot in.

Marissa Anita appears in Impetigore by Joko Anwar, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ical Tanjung, I.C.S.rrAll photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs.

The direction of the film is fantastic. Anwar is clearly a fan of horror. The use of light and shadows enhances the terror in the movie. Many scenes are lit with nothing but torchlight. The daylight moments are still shrouded by the heavily treed village. Anwar also uses shots that disorient the audience. This adds to Imeptigore’s atmosphere. There is always a sense of foreboding and danger. Anwar also calls back to some horror classics, including a clever ode to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Impetigore is a great horror movie. Its strong foundation in Indonesian culture adds to a traditional scary story. Tara Basro and Marissa Anita do an excellent job drawing the audience into the already engaging tale. Director Joko Anwar’s direction is magnificent. There are some nice homages to iconic horror moments and the film’s tone is oppressive in all the right ways. Impetigore proves that good scares will terrify the audience the world over.

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Is it good?
'Impetigore' proves that a good horror movie can cross any cultural boundary. Great acting and a story make this a must see.
Anwar's direction adds to the atmosphere and feel of the movie
Strong performances for cast
Long flashback scene towards end may break flow for some

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