If you love scary movies, but you’re not watching horror flicks by international filmmakers, then you’re missing out. Some of the creepiest, most original, and all-out fun horror flicks lately come from Spain, Argentina, and South Korea. But in my book, no country can match the horrific highs coming out of Indonesia.
Indonesian genre movies can’t match the budgets or star power of their Hollywood counterparts. But in terms of creativity and visceral thrills, they hold their own against most $100 million movies. Bold filmmakers like Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel, and Joko Anwar are at the vanguard of this Indonesian genre movie wave. I encourage you to pore over their fantastic filmographies. If you haven’t watched Satan’s Slaves, The Night Comes for Us, or Gundala yet put them on your must-watch list right now.
Anwar (writer) and Stamboel (director) teamed up to produce the nightmarish new supernatural horror-mystery, The Queen of Black Magic. Their collaboration is as gruesome and twisted as their fans could hope for. If you’re a horror lightweight, then please skip this one. Everyone else needs to sit down and buckle up for one of the year’s wildest rides.
The Queen of Black Magic stars Ario Bayu and Hannah Al Rashid as Hanif and Nadya, a loving married couple and parents of three children. Family is sacred to Hanif because he lost his parents as a child and grew up in an orphanage. And now, all these years later, Mr. Bandi, the man who ran the orphanage, is deathly ill.
Hanif takes his family to his childhood home to say his final goodbye to Mr. Bandi. He’s joined by his two best friends (who also grew up in the orphanage) and their wives. Once everyone arrives at the isolated home, things go bad fast. The phone lines don’t work, there’s no cell service, and right down the road sits a busload of dead children.
A vengeful supernatural force is toying with the guests by manifesting their fears once they’re alone. Hanif and his friends must confront the dark secrets buried in their pasts if they have any hope of escaping the orphanage alive.
The film takes its time building up to the supernatural mayhem. It revels in making viewers uneasy and then forces you to sit and stew in your anxiety. Stamboel plays his cards close to his vest early on, so you’re dying to uncover the mystery for much of the film. The problem is that movie loses steam once it slows to explain its convoluted backstory.
Anwar’s Impetigore had the same issue. Anwar loves writing stories with rich and complex mythologies. And I love when filmmakers put so much thought into their characters and the world they inhabit. The problem is that film’s momentum screeches to a halt once it’s time to unravel the mystery.
Stamboel hits pause for flashbacks and exposition dumps a bit too often and kills the momentum. Viewers want to experience shocks and thrills, not Wikipedia entries. Some of these details are so convoluted they could be yadda yadda’d away. The film takes its foot off the gas right when it should be accelerating towards its thrilling peak.
Again, these nitty-gritty details are a blessing and a curse. The complex mythology also makes the film’s stars feel like more than stock horror movie characters. You feel the love between Hanif’s family way before they get to the orphanage. We must experience their sweet rapport and loving chemistry before the plot takes its violent turn, or else we wouldn’t care about them once their lives are in jeopardy. I’m not calling The Queen of Black Magic a rich character study, but the characters don’t feel like they exist only to die in brutal ways, either.
Stamboel packs this film with horrifying images and puts his protagonists (and the viewer) through the wringer. We witness bugs digging into human flesh, rotting corpses, and a mutilated eyeball that swings from its socket like a pendulum. The movie isn’t afraid to punish characters – whether they deserve it or not.
The Queen of Black Magic is a 99-minute nightmare factory with a jet-black soul. With its cynical themes, doomed protagonists, and vicious body horror, this is one grim supernatural-thriller. If you enjoy bleak horror movies like Hereditary, Funny Games, and The Mist, then The Queen of Black Magic is right up your alley.