Chilling and intensely atmospheric, Joko Anwar’s 2017 Indonesian/South Korean thriller Satan’s Slaves mines the same vein as Ari Aster’s 2018 feature debut, Hereditary (still playing in some theatres). Both films are supernatural family horror-dramas (though Satan’s Slaves leans more heavily into the horror aspect, while Hereditary is, at heart, a family melodrama). And both films have attracted some well-deserved buzz.
Satan’s Slaves is a taut and skillfully-wrought haunting story, centred on a poor family struggling to care for their terminally-ill and bedridden matriarch (Ayu Laksmi), who relies on her husband and four children to tend to her every need. Unable to speak, she can communicate only through gestures, facial expressions, and the ringing of a small bell. (Like Charlie’s clicking in Hereditary, this bell practically takes on a supporting role in the film.) Her daughter Rini (Tara Basro), sons Tony (Endy Arfian), Bondi (Nasar Annuz), and Ian (M. Adhiyat), and husband (Bront Palare) care for her until she dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances. But even after she is buried, the family still senses that she may not be completely gone – paranormal experiences ranging from unsettling to terrifying start to add up, and Rini and Tony piece together a disturbing family history that points toward a horrifying conclusion that will tear their family apart. That promise is fulfilled in a frenetic, balls-to-the-wall final act that keeps the tension rising and blood pounding.
Score: 7 out of 10 bells.