SATAN’S SLAVES **** Indonesia / South Korea 2017 Dir: Joko Anwar. 107 mins
Set in 1981 with neat use of period trappings (notably the sinister violation of a lovely old red View Finder), this chilling remake of the same-named 1982 film centres around a family at their lowest point. Sympathetic 22-year-old Rini (Tara Basro) faces the loss of her gravely ill mother – her Dad having exhausted the family savings paying for her hospital care and forced to go away to raise some money or else face repossession.
When mum dies, one of Rini’s little brothers lives in fear of her waking up from the grave, not helped by his bedroom window view of the cemetery. Director Anwar takes his cue from modern American horror, with an ambulatory wheelchair from THE CHANGELING and echoes of Zelda in PET SEMATARY with its harrowing scenes of a family confronted by a loved one ravaged by illness, turning her into a grotesque presence, shedding her hair and wasting away upstairs and reduced to ringing a bell for assistance (a subsequent audio signifier of threat). He also ekes considerable tension in the vein of THE EXORCIST with the necessity of characters taking the long walk upstairs to ever more frightening happenings in a family member’s room. With just a single sequence of (jolting) on-screen bloodshed and few jump scares, Anwar has crafted an intelligent picture where the biggest frights are relatively low-key: Mum’s voice appearing between stations on an analogue radio; a simple white bed sheet seemingly taking on a life of its own and perhaps cinema history’s creepiest employment of a signed conversation. The 80’s backdrop cleverly channels the wave of “Satanic Panic”, complete with ominous chants in ancient languages emerging from a vinyl record played backwards and a plot reveal that, despite resembling a tabloid Satanism scare story of the period, is played impressively straight. The family are worth rooting for and the scares are potent; the only minor debit is overlength – at least one coda should have been nixed.
Review by Steven West