Impetigore (Perempuan Tanah Jahanam) is an Indonesian folk horror movie from director Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves, Gundala).
Maya (Tara Basro) and Dini (Marissa Anita) are best friends, working together to get their fledgling clothing business off the ground in a busy city market. Like many new businesses, things are shaky at first, so when Maya discovers an old photograph of herself with the family she never knew, Dini encourages her to investigate the possibility of an inheritance. Maya holds no memory of either her parents or her time living there, but agrees to visit the remote country village where her family lived.
The two friends arrange to meet with village elder, Ki Saptadi (Ario Bayu), a renowned practitioner of traditional puppetry, wayang kulit. They decide to stay overnight in the large abandoned house owned by Maya’s family. As the night draws on, strange events occur in and around the house and as the two friends investigate further, they hear stories that the village is cursed.
Things get off to a good start with an opening sequence that serves as both a great introduction to Maya and Dini’s friendship, and as an effective set piece to set the tone. Tara Basro and Marissa Anita’s performances are the key to it and they really sell the friendship between the two. The remote village locale also adds to the creepy air later on, as the two friends, used to life in a big city, find themselves thrown into a rural nightmare.
Impetigore is part ghost story, part family drama and part folk horror. It combines supernatural flavour with gruesome reality as the villagers, gripped by superstition and panic, go to extreme lengths to lift the curse that has terrorised them for years. Some of the more visceral scenes bring to mind Eli Roth’s Hostel and there is some fairly confronting infanticide that will not be to everyone’s taste. But the ghost story elements put Impetigore firmly the company of more traditional creepers like The Changeling or Poltergeist.
It would actually make for a great Indonesian horror double bill, to pair Impetigore with Timo Tjahjanto’s underrated salute to The Evil Dead, May The Devil Take You (Sebelum Iblis Menjemput). Both movies investigate old family homes, inherited curses and demonic influence.
Impetigore also looks pretty great, with an eerie, misty aesthetic for the village and the wayang kulit shadow puppet motif recurring throughout, with set pieces and flashbacks shown in the silhouetted style of the traditional performance.
Events wind up slowly and precisely as Impetigore lays the groundwork for third act escalation, but paints itself into a bit of a corner as it does so. It leaves itself without much option than to cram in a lot of exposition. Acknowledging we can’t have one without the other, because a lack of explanation would be extremely unsatisfying, the movie still works better in its mysterious and scene-setting first half. The promise of terror being far more tantalising than the reveal.
Still, Impetigore is certainly enjoyable and it makes a refreshing, interesting change to see the folk horror genre interpreted from an Indonesian perspective. Horror fiends and fans of supernatural horror, in particular, will want to check it out.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘Impetigore’ is now available on horror streaming service Shudder in the US, Canada and UK.