While I’m not familiar with the original film that Satan’s Slaves is actively remaking, Indonesian director Joko Anwar delivers a confidently crafted tale of terror (here’s a friendly reminder that Ritual is a pretty good film) where he mixes together a satanic cult with a classic chiller brimming with otherworldly apparitions and appearances of the living dead. It might take some time to really get going, but once the second half of Satan’s Slaves kicks into high gear, that’s when it feels like Anwar is having the most fun as a filmmaker, leaning into some darkly comedic notes that balance out the movie’s fright-filled moments that keep Satan’s Slaves from feeling like other recent movies cut from a similar cinematic cloth.
In Satan’s Slaves, we’re introduced to Mawrani Suwono (Ayu Laksmi), a formerly famous singer who has been struck ill over the last several years, leaving her family in financial ruin as they try to care for her, with only very limited resources to do so. Once Mawrani succumbs to the mysterious disease, her husband (Bront Palarae) sets out to try and get the family finances in order, leaving their 22-year-old daughter Rini in charge of her younger brothers – Tony, age 16 (Endy Arfian), Bondi, age 10 (Nasar Annuz) and Ian, who is just days away from turning 7 (Muhammad Adhiyat). As Mawrani’s offspring do their best to pull together in this time of crisis, they’re haunted by an onslaught of disturbing supernatural entities and visions, who all seem hellbent on tormenting the siblings and tearing apart their familial bond, driven by a family secret that’s somehow related to Mawrani’s unusual death.
For his latest, Anwar transports audiences back to 1981, and the retro aesthetic perfectly services Anwar’s timeless and moody thriller that feels perfectly at home with the era of genre filmmaking its celebrating. Ical Tanjung’s saturnine cinematography adds a palpable sense of gloom and foreboding dread to Satan’s Slaves, yet he still finds a way to inject the Suwono household with a genuine sense of warmth, despite the spooky happenings inside its walls (gorgeous work, truly). In terms of the horror elements, Satan’s Slaves does a decent job of balancing out several creepy set pieces with the usual onslaught of jump scares. It’s been a long time since I’ve called any movie “scary,” but I will say Satan’s Slaves does have a few genuinely unsettling moments that I thought worked just as well as anything you’d see in one of the Conjuring movies, or even the most recent Annabelle movie as well.
While I feel like Satan’s Slaves could have been tightened up by about 10 minutes and should have relied a little less on music stingers for its scares, the film’s intriguing mythology, as well as excellent performances from its cast as a whole, elevate Anwar’s tension-filled exploration of the price that families can pay when someone dabbles in the dark side. Anwar has peppered quite a few intriguing Easter eggs throughout Slaves as well (for example, the fact that we never once learn Mawrani’s husband’s name ties directly into the story in a very unusual way), making for an experience that might reap more rewards upon a second viewing. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details,” and it seems like that may have been Anwar’s mantra while making Satan’s Slaves too, because there’s a lot to dig into here, both symbolically and thematically.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
Editor's Note: Check here to read all of our reviews from the 2018 Cinepocalypse film festival!