It is refreshing to experience a horror film that carries some weight. So often the genre relies on the quick attack of a jumpscare, earning its spooks in an instant instead of over the full runtime. In Impetigore, you feel in your bones the weight of the curse at the film’s center. Every aspect of the film is designed to seep into you, filling you with dread and sorrow and the burden of its slowly unfolding horror. Joko Anwar delivers an elegant and hauntingly beautiful horror in Impetigore.
After surviving a murder attempt in the city, Maya, a young woman in the midst of financial struggle, learns that she may have a claim to an ancestral home that her family occupied in a remote village. Maya and her friend, Dini, travel to the village to investigate her inheritance but are unaware that the villagers are hellbent on Maya’s murder in the hopes of removing a curse brought on by her family. Maya must fight for her life, uncover the truth, and confront her family’s curse.
Impetigore was an official selection of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is directed by Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar. The film stars Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Marissa Anita, Christine Hakim, and Asmara Abigail. In addition to Impetigore, Joko Anwar has directed other Shudder original films, including Satan’s Slaves.
Impetigore is a striking beauty within the genre. Each element of the film is carefully incorporated, leaving a final product that is just as lovely to look at as it is chilling. The shots are elegantly assembled and the setting is used to its greatest effect. Impetigore almost feels lavish in this way. The film brings together the spaces of the remote village, the hostile forest, and the empty house to lightly touch on several subgenres of horror within one tale. Additionally, the use of shadow puppetry only adds another layer of beauty to appreciate. The entire film feels like a delicate and intricate work.
Beyond being an attractive film, the music absolutely makes Impetigore. The original score perfectly wraps around the carefully curated cinematography, delivering a cohesive and effective film. The characters are likable, which helps the horror hit even harder, and the story unfolds rapidly. There is a lot going on in Impetigore and sometimes the narrative feels like a snake eating its own tail, but to this critic that isn’t a negative. The chaos and confusion of the film almost work to contextualize the curse and how it is misunderstood by the village. Impetigore is an exquisite example of film craftsmanship. Really well done.
The Monstrous Feminine
The history between women and the horror genre is a long one. Womanhood, and especially motherhood, are a fertile source of emotional horror. In Impetigore, horror takes the form of a curse that preys upon unborn children. As such, a great deal of the film focuses on a ritual approach to childbirth and preys on the anxieties of young parents that are helpless to protect their children.
Horror has often keyed into societal anxieties surrounding women, their bodies, and their roles as wives and mothers as a means of connecting the horrific to the taboo. Impetigore is no exception, as its curse is born out of an instance of infidelity and a child conceived out of wedlock. The female body, bodies of women and young girls, is a vessel of vengeance that is activated by the actions of men. Utilizing the body politics of women, sex, and birth gives Impetigore a timeless quality. It’s a contemporary film, but it is entrenched in “old evils.” Thousands of words could be spent unpacking this aspect of Impetigore.
Effective and Encompassing Horror
As mentioned earlier, Impetigore feels much broader in its scope. It would be difficult to nail this one down to a specific genre, as it seems so many are represented. The ancestral home at the center of the film is a gripping presence and evokes the chills and thrills of your favorite haunted house story. The ghosts that haunt the home and our characters fall in step with this feeling, creating a mournful sort of spook. Impetigore is a perfect ghost story… and, yet, much more than a ghost story.
The curse of the film broadens the scope beyond haunted walls and child ghosts. This single element transforms Impetigore to a sort of folk horror/cult horror, that is further realized by shocking gore. Recall at the outset, I identified Impetigore as conjuring the kind of fear that sustains the viewer for the entire runtime. This is true, the film has a gradually building sense of dread and heaviness, but it is punctuated by violence and ruthlessness that jumpstarts your already racing heart.
Joko Anwar has proven to be rock solid as a craftsman of horror. Impetigore is effectively terrifying, equal to being captivatingly beautiful. A standout of the genre in 2020.
What cinematic curse still gives you chills? Let us know in the comments!
Impetigore premieres on Shudder on July 23, 2020. The film will also be available for streaming on Shudder Canada and Shudder UK.
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