SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Impetigore starts with such great promise. The new Indonesian horror film from writer-director Joko Anwar begins with two friends working in toll booths late at night while chatting with each other over the phone. Maya (Tara Basro) tells Dini (Marissa Anita) that a creepy guy keeps showing up every night to go through her toll. No sooner does she say that than said creeper arrives and tries to attack her with a machete. Packed with rapid-fire dialogue and funny asides, not to mention a suspenseful moment or two, this beginning segment sets a high bar for the rest of the film.
Soon after surviving the attack, Maya discovers that she might be the heiress to a large piece of property in a remote village. She and Dini venture to the town only to discover that things are not so great. To put a finer point on it, the sprawling mansion is cursed. Hiding her identity and attempting to solve the mystery, Maya and Dini break into the home, now overrun with vines, dust, and critters, in an attempt to solve the mystery.
“…Maya discovers that she might be the heiress to a large piece of property…the sprawling mansion is cursed.”
Why are the townsfolk terrified of the mansion? Why does everyone mill about with a suspicious glare on their faces? Why are there so many children’s graves in the town cemetery? Furthermore, why does the creepy man known as The Puppetmaster, have such control over the town? Impetigore doesn’t take itself too seriously, having the two leads bicker back and forth humorously. This serves as a fine distraction for the scares that Anwar is setting up, albeit sometimes as broad as the humor.
While engaging enough, the film struggles with its tone and story beats not always mixing quite right. Some moments are played for scares, others played for humor, while some moments come off as utterly inconceivable. Thankfully the production values make up for the choppier bits of the film. Ical Tanjung’s work behind the camera is magical, invoking Vittorio Storaro’s saturated tones in Apocalypse Now. Vibrant golden glows of fire against a dark jungle background, light dancing reflections on streams, haze lingering in the negative spaces of the screen. There is some fantastic work here. That’s not to mention the beautiful Indonesian puppetry scenes of shadows cast on a golden canvas. It should also be noted that the practical effects range from adequate to impressive with Darwyn Tse helming the blood and guts.
I enjoyed Impetigore, I did. But I didn’t love it. Anwar has a fun cinematic voice that is unpredictable and hilarious. But that same unpredictability, and his need to totally spell things out ad nauseam toward the end, weigh down a good horror mystery. In the end, we can still consider this a very promising note in Anwar’s career.
Impetigore screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.