Pengabdi Setan, or Satan’s Slaves (the title of both this film and the original 1982 film upon which it is based) concerns a cash strapped Indonesian family who suffers the loss of the matriarch of the clan. Upon her death, the family is left with a lingering debt due in part to having had to pay out the ass for medicine for her preternatural (and mega-creepy) illness. To alleviate that financial burden, Daddy Dearest heads off to the city to find a way to make money leaving his four children home alone. It doesn’t take long before shit hits the frightful fan six ways to Sunday as soon the children’s mother’s ghost begins appearing in ever more frightful ways…and her pact with a Satanic cult to allow her to bear children (she was barren up to that point ‘natch) is revealed. Can our young heroes survive the supernatural’s invasion into their lives (including the aforementioned cult and ghosts, as well as the living dead…yup, we get zombies in this one as well my creeps)?!!
Carried on the impressive acting chops of it’s four young leads (Tara Basro, Nasar Annuz, M. Adhiyat, and Endy Arfian), it’s strong practical effects work, and it’s somber and moody lighting and score; Satan’s Slaves is one hell of an impressive slow burn excursion into the horror biz. With it’s reliance on ghosts and Satanic cults and it’s overall aesthetics, the whole affair (solidly helmed by Writer/Director Joko Anwar) comes off more akin to the classic supernatural yarns found in Italian horror cinema rather than the more standard entries in the Asian spookshow genre, not to mention a touch of classic Gothic thriller tropes (the dark family history, the house plagued by outre occurrences, a young female protagonist)…all of which add up to a unique experience that effectively twists established tropes of the genre (especially with the inclusion of the Muslim religious overtones rather than the bog standard Christian/Catholic elements).
On the negative side of things; this flick is one of them slow burn affairs I’m always on about. While you know I personally dig on that; especially when it’s handled as well as it is here, but lovers of fast paced shocks and scares should be advised that is not the order of the day with Satan’s Slaves. Also, there is some random comedy inserted here and there that slightly derails the ultra-serious tone of the rest of the picture…not a deal breaker by any means, but it does seem out of place.
Before I wrap this up, I know some of you will wonder how this version of Satan’s Slaves stacks up against the original picture…I have to admit, I’ve never set my putrid peepers on the OG fright flick…so if anyone of you has checked out both features, feel free to chime in and let a beastly brother know!
If you are looking for an atmospheric, neo-Gothic style tale of the supernatural, Satan’s Slaves will surely satisfy…it’s heavy on mood and dread that only increases as the film unspools, and is filled with strong performances that skillfully sell the outlandish goings-on!
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