review by Patrick Ripoll
A mother who cannot get pregnant makes a pact with the devil to have children, but at a terrible price. Her choice has deadly ramifications that echo through multiple generations. Satan's Slaves, the new film from Joko Anwar, who is certainly one of Indonesia's only working horror filmmakers, also echoes through generations. It's a loose remake of 1982 Indonesian black magic film Satan's Slave. which itself is often described as "the Indonesian Phantasm", though the connection there is even looser. But ultimately, most of Satan's Slaves can be tied back to the work of a single filmmaker: James Wan.
Yes, sadly this is not a throwback to the era of the putrid gore and slime of the black magic films of the 70's and 80's, but the gag-driven Hollywood haunted house cinema of this decade. Have you seen the one where the character ducks out of frame and there's a dark figure behind them? How about the one where you see the shadow of a creature in the dark but when the light turns on the shadow disappears? How about the one where a character looks in fear to their left but when the camera pans over to where they're looking there's nothing there BUT THEN the camera pans back to the character there's a dark figure behind them? That particular one shows up about a dozen times. Even the one very good original gag involving a Viewmaster feels like something inspired by Sinister.
But hey, let's not look gift horses in the mouth. Horror gags are tons of fun when done properly and most of the scares in this film are done properly. And horror films from Indonesia are rare enough that the local culture gives the well-worn approach a fresh flavor. Seeing the Judeo-Christian concepts of good and evil that are the foundation of much American horror replaced with Islam is always interesting and worth a look. The convoluted story and mythology of the plot is less so, but Satan's Slaves isn't a movie about characters or story. It's a movie about how something leaping out from around a corner and shouting "Boo!" is always a good time.