Satan's Slaves serves up scare fest in a creepy old house

Tara Basro plays a young woman who looks after her family living on the edge of a cemetery in Satan's Slaves.
Tara Basro plays a young woman who looks after her family living on the edge of a cemetery in Satan's Slaves.PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

REVIEW / HORROR SATAN'S SLAVES (PG13)

105 minutes/Opens today

3.5 stars

The story: Rini (Tara Basro) is a young woman in a crisis. She looks after her mother (Ayu Laksmi), a former singing star, who is bedridden and dying, as well as her younger brothers and a grandmother. Her father goes away, leaving her in charge of the family, who live in a large house on the edge of a cemetery. Strange events occur, revealing to her secrets of her family's dark past.

In this retro-wonderful remake of a 1980 Indonesian classic, film-maker Joko Anwar sticks not just to the melodramatics of the original movie, but also to its form.

He makes few concessions to the modern horror format. There are no computer graphics monsters, cute teen lead actors, drawn-out chase and action scenes or ill-fitting comedic bits. Anwar's shoestring budget is one reason; it is also his respect and love for the 1970s and 1980s' Indonesian low-budget genre films.

This is why he also chose to set this movie in the same time period. There are plot advantages to doing this, of course. It makes it more conceivable that a multi-generation family that is not rich lives in one house, for example, or that there is a well inside its walls and when characters need information, nobody opens a laptop - they have to travel to yet another creepy locale to find it.

That old-time feel, as well as Anwar's use of classic Indopop for eerie effect, helped make this movie the highest-grossing Indonesian movie in its home country last year.

Shot mostly in a single location, in a wonderfully atmospheric two-storey dwelling, Anwar relies on shadows, make-up and, in one gloriously shocking moment, prosthetics and fake blood to make audiences jump.

The scares are carefully timed and spaced between plenty of character-building moments, showing the closeness of the family. These soap opera bits have aged the least well, but there is a low-key feel to these moments of filial piety that is thoroughly modern.

The "where" of the wooden structure is put to good use - long corridors, creaky doors, flickering lights and staircases and, above all, the well are employed to generate scares. In the final act, the family comes under assault from poltergeists, zombies, graveyard ghosts, cultists - it is a monster's ball at the old house, deftly handled by Anwar.

He is a former film writer at home with both mainstream and arthouse projects. He was in Singapore recently to work on a project at the National Gallery Singapore, for example. In this update, he takes Asian horror tradition and gives it a dose of freshness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Scare fest in a creepy old house'. Print Edition | Subscribe