New to Shudder this week is the Indonesian horror film The Queen of Black Magic. Written by Joko Anwar and directed by Kimo Stamboel, this film joins the ranks of Shudder’s other amazing Indonesian offerings (Impetigore, Satan’s Slaves, May the Devil Take You) and offers viewers an experience that is both horrifying and intriguing.
Raised in a rural orphanage, three (now grown) friends, Anton (Tanta Ginting), Hanif (Ario Bayu), and Jefri (Miller Khan) return when they hear that the health of the proprietor is failing. Along with each other, Mr. Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru) is the closest thing to family that they had as children. They each bring along their families as a way to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood, and to say goodbye to the man who raised them.
While on the surface, the orphanage holds many good memories for the men, it also houses secrets upon secrets. Some from the past, thought to be deeply buried, and others more recent, built upon the lies that were told years ago.
Upon arriving, Hanif’s youngest son, Haqi (Muzakki Ramdhan), begins exploring. He befriends one of the current residents, who tells him the story of a woman who had been on staff when his father was a boy. The legend was that she had gone insane and had to be locked in a room in order to keep the children safe. She wound up bashing her own head against the door until it killed her.
This legend is only the tip of the iceberg of secrets housed by the orphanage and its grounds. Very slowly, though, that iceberg begins to break the surface, unleashing decades of buried truths that are waiting to be resolved.
The film takes its time to rev up, spending the first scenes working to establish characters and dynamics with its rather large cast, while also setting a quietly unsettling tone within the orphanage itself. We get several small hints early on that something isn’t quite right here, but then have to wait a while before they develop into anything more.
The long lead-up isn’t necessarily dull, it just makes the film a bit uneven. Especially given the fact that the time is being used to establish characters that really don’t wind up seeing much development over the course of the film. We spend a lot of time with these people, and really only know one or two rather obvious things about each of them. The film could have been strengthened if this time had been used a little more carefully.
The story might be slow to develop, but when the film finally unleashes its horrific finale, it holds absolutely nothing back. Everything that has been teased and hinted at early in the film is unloaded on the audience with both barrels. It is here that the film really finds its footing. Stamboel takes a house that had only hinted at what resided within its walls and transforms it into a self-contained nightmare. The characters are faced with a barrage of bloody horrors as the titular Queen finally appears and makes her intentions known. It may take a while to get going, but once the gore starts, this film has no intention of holding back.
The Queen of Black Magic is a film that revels in the fact that the past cannot stay buried forever and that all sins must eventually be paid for—one way or another.
Movie Score: 4/5