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Thursday, July 23, 2020

[Review] ‘Impetigore’ Explores Inherited Curses Through Gruesome Taboo-Breaking Horror

Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves presented endless chills and spooky atmosphere when a family matriarch unleashed a family curse. Anwar’s latest once again explores the theme of inherited curses but in a vastly different and bloodier manner. Drawing inspiration from the likes of The Texas Chain Saw MassacreImpetigore eschews jump-scare laden haunted house fare in favor of languid paced taboo-breaking horror.

Maya (Tara BasroSatan’s Slaves) works at a toll booth, talking the night away on the phone with her best friend Dini (Marissa AnitaFolklore). She complains of a creepy man stalking her booth for days, and just as her friend assuages her paranoia, the man shows up again. He asks her of her parentage, retrieves a machete from his trunk, and goes on the attack. This intense opening hook kicks off Anwar’s latest, which sees Maya heading to her hometown to discover her lineage and potential inheritance.

The only problem is that everyone there wants to kill her.

Once the two best friends get to the village, the plot slows down dramatically to build and then parcel out its mystery. Death seems to plague the remote town, and the villagers behave strangely. What’s more is that Maya sees a trio of girls where children shouldn’t be, often at night and in the woods. No one else can see them, and there are no other kids in town. That’s because the village leader drowns every single baby mere moments after its born; Impetigore doesn’t mess around with the shattering of one of horror’s biggest taboos. The village is cursed, and Maya is connected, but the how and why takes measured time.

It’s in the narrative and its flow that Anwar’s sophomore effort doesn’t feel as polished. It can be too slow in parts, there are some logic inconsistencies, and strange choices that take you out of the moment- a lengthy flashback sequence late in the film is interrupted at least five times to show that yes, Maya is still hiding behind a tree while she’s being pursued. Despite the stories being ultimately different, the central narrative of a protagonist investigating her past and trying to make amends for her parents’ choices feels a little too similar to Anwar’s breakout feature.

Aesthetically, though, Impetigore is stuffed to the gills with atmosphere. The rural setting is gorgeous, but it’s made downright eerie when cast in red lighting and hazy fog. Anwar doesn’t hold back on the horror, either. There’s a lot of skinless victims, dead babies, and machete-wielding maniacs that bring the pain. Though the style of visceral horror might harken back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s infused with Indonesian folklore, making it feel a little fresher. The grit of sacrifice and bloody curses against gorgeous shadow puppetry makes for impressive visuals.

Distilled to its basic plot and its narrative structure in which its heroine investigates an evil curse, Impetigore feels familiar. In turn, it makes the pacing feel slow. Luckily, in terms of pure horror, Anwar’s latest goes for broke in terms of gonzo bloodshed, over-the-top reveals, and a ballsy approach to shattering cinematic taboos. It may be familiar, but it’s still a lot of visceral fun. And it’s the precise type of gruesome vehicle that makes you glad Anwar is bringing his voice to the genre.

Impetigore is now streaming exclusively through Shudder.

Editor’s Note: This Sundance review was originally published on January 31, 2020.


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