Monday, January 27, 2020

Sundance ’20: Impetigore

There is usually a reason why secluded villages are secluded. It might not be rational, strictly speaking, but it holds enough sway to prevent people from beating a path to town. Likewise, large empty houses are not left abandoned without some kind of rationale, especially in hardscrabble rural Indonesia. Unfortunately, a scuffling twenty-five-year-old will go out of her way, putting herself in harm’s way, in hopes of securing an inheritance in Joko Anwar’s Impetigore, which screens during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Frankly, Anwar is criminally under-heralded as a modern master of the horror genre. In the future, film schools could very well show Impetigore’s opening sequence in horror directing classes, as a crackerjack example of immediate white-knuckle tension that could serve as a compartmentalized prologue, but steadily takes on greater significance as the film develops. Maya is a frustrated toll-collector who survives a harrowing attack from a passing motorist. Weirdly, he seems to know her, even calling her by a name she vaguely remembers from her early childhood.

The ordeal spurs Maya to examine her hazy memories of life with her late parents in the countryside, before the orphaned girl relocated to the city with the woman she always knew as an aunt. All that remains is a photo of little Maya (as she is now known) standing with her parents, in front of a large and presumably valuable house. Accompanied by her encouraging friend Dini, Maya treks out to the too-small-to-be-on-the-map village, hoping to claim title to the property. However, they find the village odd. The people are standoffish and there are absolutely no children to be seen—except for the three spectral girls Maya thought she saw standing by the road, during the overnight bus ride.

The evil vibe Anwar establishes right from the start only deepens as he reveals the details regarding the curse plaguing the town. Karma kills and tragedy compounds—brutally. Arguably, Anwar’s storyline is not blow-you-away original, but his execution is so skillful, he keeps the audience on pins-and-needles throughout every second and every frame. Like his previous horror film, the remake of Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore is straight-up terrifying.

Tara Basro is pretty good doing the scream queen thing as Maya and her character has the refreshing intuition to get suspicious at the right moments. Marissa Anita’s energetic performance as Dini compliments her nicely. Asmara Abigail is arrestingly vulnerable playing the naïve Ratih, apparently the village’s only sane resident, but that’s grading on a generous curve. However, Ario Bayu seems strangely reserved when it comes to chewing the scenery as the sinister, brooding village headman, Ki Saptadi.

Like Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore also bears comparison to Aster’s Hereditary. It has all of the extreme emotional anguish and Saptadi’s eerie shadow puppets parallel the use of scale miniatures in Aster’s breakout hit. Every aspect of the film strengthens the unnerving atmosphere, especially Ical Tanjung’s darkly mysterious cinematography. Very highly recommended for horror fans, Impetigore screens again tomorrow (1/28) in Salt Lake and Wednesday (1/29), Friday (1/31), and Saturday (2/1) in Park City, as a Midnight selection at this year’s Sundance.