Satan’s Slaves (Pengabdi Setan) (2017) [Cinepocalypse 2018]

After a woman’s death following an illness, she comes back to haunt and get her children back.

This remake written and directed by Joko Anwar is based on a film written by Sisworo Gautama Putra, Naryono Prayitno, Subagio S., and Imam Tantowi. The story here is one that mixes haunting with potential demon involvement. The film has many great ideas, but the scares are not entirely effective which leaves it with just atmosphere to really scare. The atmosphere is well-created, well-represented, but it does feel like something is missing. The writing is good overall, but the story itself and its scares feel like something seen quite a few times before, thus robbing it of its potential to scare and mark the viewer. The film in and off itself is competently made, but something is missing.

The cast of the film is led by Tara Basro as Rini, the long suffering and long sacrificing daughter of a once popular singer in charge of her mother’s healthcare and her brothers. She does all she can to take care of the whole family before and after her mother’s death and once things start going bump in the night. Basro gives a performance that pulls the attention in and keeps it, helping the film greatly. Playing her father is Bront Palarae who gives a good performance as a man who is a bit lost in the situation and doesn’t quite know how to care for his family. His performance is subtle and works with the film’s tone. The rest of the cast also gives performances that fit in with the film’s tone and content. The only other standout is Ayu Laksmi as Mother who gives a mostly stoic performance while having a bit of fun with the scare factor for the film. She’s the central character and gives a performance that would fit perfectly in J-Horror staples even though this is not J-Horror.

Adding a lot of atmosphere and visual appeal to the film is the cinematography by Ical Tanjung who gives the film an air of mystery, a little something extra that makes it feel bigger, like a complex film about much more than a haunting and some dealings with demons or Satan. The film looks expensive, lush, with complex dark images, and darkness filled with meaning. The work done on the visual front is strong and keeps the attention on the film with images that are interesting and filled with mystery.

Satan’s Slaves is adored by some and disliked by others, here it fell flat for the most part with the exception of a couple of performances and the visual work of cinematographer Ical Tanjung. The film looks great, has good performances, but the story at this point, even without having seen the original film it is based on, feels a bit too familiar, like a rehash of a few film that have come out recently.

Cinepocalypse 2018 runs from June 21st until June 28th, 2018.