[What The?! Fest 2018] SATAN'S SLAVES Is A Remake Handled With Care And Beauty

It’s rare these days to sit down to a movie and know literally nothing about it. Fortunately for me that was the case with Satan’s Slaves – I knew absolutely nothing about it. I did not know that it was a foreign film, I did not know that it was subtitled, and I knew nothing about the plot. All of these things made me enjoy it even more and I am sad that I have to ruin some of these things for you, perspective viewer. However, I want you to find your way to it and watch it, so ruin some of the surprises it seems I must (unless you just went to see it without reading anything more!).

Written and directed by Joko Anwar, Satan’s Slaves is a prequel/remake of a 1980 film of the same name but has gone on to see immense success in its own right, already having been released in 42 countries and achieving the rank of the highest grossing Indonesian horror film of all time.  No small feet yet it is easy to see why. The film is beautifully shot, with strikingly vivid colors for a modern horror film, and a down to earth feel, helped by it’s early 1980’s setting. There is no flashy tech, no cell phones, no genre breaking modernized living to be found. The film takes place in a rural setting avoiding many of the pitfalls and plot holes common of horror movies.

I genuinely love foreign language horror, seeing a different culture’s perspective on the supernatural, and hearing another language (for movies like this which are subbed) creates a viewing experience out of the ordinary, and all of these facets work to this films strength. There are multitudes of supernatural horror stories dealing with the monsters of Christianity but seeing similar themes through the perspective window of Islam instead was a fresh, albeit not drastic, change. Sadly, one of these strengths, a beautiful language, was one of the films few shortcomings. While the actors performed very well and I have faith given their conviction that the writing was solid, the translations for the English subtitles had to have been made too literally, leaving some awkward sentences and idioms that did not translate well. While the majority of the movie does not suffer, the bits where these oddities come through are distracting and come at a few key moments in the film.

While the direction and cinematography were great, the acting was scores better than anticipated. With many young actors I admittedly was expecting some inconsistent performances but found myself impressed by the end of everything. Bront Palarae, the most seasoned of the cast, plays the patriarch of the central family. His performance is subtle, with his characters odd sense of remorse explained through the plot’s revelations. Tara Basro anchors the film as the central character and eldest child, with a stoic and solid performance. Yet the film’s strongest performance may have come from young M. Adhiyat for his role as Ian.

While hesitant to give away much of the plot merely for the sake of a review, some details can be spared. The film centers on a poor family, led by eldest daughter Rini (Tara Basro), who’s mother, once a famous musician, has been suffering a horrible and unknown illness for three years. The family has fallen on hard times try to keep up with her medical procedures but as they run out of money, they continue to receive no answers about her ailment, what caused it, or how to cure it. The family is falling into despair when she suddenly dies. What follows is the children’s slow burn investigation into the supernatural powers that may have caused their mother’s death, and the horrible repercussions that await them for her actions in life.

Anwar did a superb job of following traditional horror formula with just enough small twists and turns to keep the viewer for feeling too smart. More than once I felt like the film was turning towards the inevitable cliché only to have it jeer off just enough to keep it interesting, saving it’s biggest, and most legitimate, swerve for the finale. While I wasn’t scared during the movie, I was genuinely interested in everything that was happening, felt a constant sense of unease, and was treated to a rare shock with the story’s big play at the end.

Satan’s Slaves was handled with care, treated well by a director/writer who was passionate of the source material and wanted to create a special experience. While it has its small shortcomings, it is one of the better modern horror movies I have seen, especially given its modest budget and lack of scares. A worthwhile watch for any fan of foreign horror.