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Film Review: Satan’s Slaves (Pengabdi Setan) (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

After dying from a strange illness that she suffered for 3 years, a mother returns home to pick up her children.

REVIEW:

In 1980 Sisworo Gautama Putra made an ever-lasting impact on Indonesian horror cinema with his landmark piece, Satan’s Slave (Pengabdi Setan). The tale of a grief-stricken family getting haunted by evil supernatural forces struck a chord with the audiences and quickly became one of the most iconic horror films of its time. Among those in awe of the film was also young Joko Anwar, whose love affair with it would carry on till the present day. So great was his love for the film, that after becoming a filmmaker himself, the idea of remaking the old classic became somewhat of a dream project of his and in 2017, after years of haunting the producers for the filming rights, that dream finally became reality.

Anwar not only directed but also reworked the script, giving the story a new lease of life in a form of a loose prequel. His love for the film comes through loud an clear in the respectful way he has approached the task, lovingly preserving the things that were integral to the original while giving other aspects a light spruce up in order to make them more palatable for modern audiences. It is not only a fantastic remake, but also a great piece of modern Indonesian horror cinema on its own right.

The story centres around four siblings Rini (Tara Basro), Tony (Endy Arfian), Bondi (Nasar Annuz) and Ian (M. Adhiyat) living in the outskirts of Jakarta. After loosing their mother to a prolonged illness, the foursome are left to deal with the family’s dwindling finances as well as their grief. While their father Bahri (Bront Palarae) travels to Jakarta to settle the financial situation, the kids are left with their wheelchair bound grandmother Rahma (Elly D. Luthan) and a house full of painful memories. It does not take long for those memories to turn into nightmares and once happy home to something terrifying. What makes things worse is the fact that it seems that it is not simply that forces beyond the grave have come to haunt the family, but they are also faced with a much more tangible enemy, out to get one of their own.

While Satan’s Slaves is indeed a prequel rather than a straightforward remake, the story still very much follow along the same lines as it’s predecessor. What Anwar has done is to amp up the tension and created a fantastically suspenseful piece of modern horror. Some of the best scare scenes are in the beginning of the film where the ghostly appearances of the late mother make for some truly hair-raising moments. Even second time around it still managed to give a decent fright. The ghosts as well as the living dead that rise up to aid the dark forces, are all beautifully executed with a suitably creepy appearances and the brief moments of gore do a good job in living up to Putra’s vision. Where the original material lacked in the story department, Anwar has filled in the blanks that were so blatantly there; i.e. the mother’s involvement with satanic forces and as a result the end conclusion is not as overly simplified as it’s predecessor’s. The epilogue may just seem like a pointless bit of nonsense for those who have not seen Putra’s version, but for those in the know it offers a delicious little nod toward the 1980’s classic.

All the cast do a respectable job respectively with Tara Basro shinning in the leading role.  The youngest of the cast, M. Adhiyat gives an equally fantastic performance as the mute little brother, managing to bring forth a real depth of character despite having no spoken dialogue. As a whole Anwar has managed to get the best out of his cast and brought the characters alive in a real and relatable way. Even when running from a hoard of living dead, this bunch comes across as a genuine family unit.

Reworking an old classic is always a risky business. The need to balance between keeping loyal to the original material and creating something new and exciting, pleasing the old fans while finding completely new audiences, is a tough thing to do and not something just anyone can pull off. Joko Anwar however has managed just that. Satan’s Slaves is a perfect example of a remake that reverently reworks the original material into something more suitable for the modern times. It takes the best bits and builds around them, creating a lovingly crafted modernization of an already great story. It is one of the best remakes to come out in the last decade and a brilliant watch for anyone looking to familiarise themselves with modern Indonesian horror cinema.

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