31 Days of Horror: Satan’s Slaves (2017)

Another rainy night in New York and tonight’s choice was the atmospheric Satan’s Slaves directed by Joko Anwar and available to watch on Shudder. Apparently, Anwar was so taken by a 1980 Indonesian movie of the same name (which inspired him to become a filmmaker) that he clamored to do a remake/prequel to the movie. Once he showed producers his vision for the film, he got financial backing and was able to shoot Satan’s Slaves in only eighteen days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhc0d6kYmQ8

In Satan’s Slaves, a family of six struggles to survive after their mother has fallen ill and become bedridden the last three years. The mother Mawarni (Ayu Laksmi) used to be a famous singer, but she hasn’t worked in eight years and no more royalties are coming in for the family. The father (Bront Palarae) has mortgaged the family house, which looks like it might have once been palatial, and is now bankrupt after caring for his sick wife. Mawarni rules over the family with a silver handbell that she rings whenever she needs something, and that serves as her voice throughout the movie, a rather aggressive one.

Mawarni dies and the family buries her in the Islamic tradition, with the local holy man asking the father if they ever pray since he’s never seen them in the mosque. Oldest child Rini (Tara Basro) serves as caretaker for the family when their father travels after the funeral to attend to business matters. That’s when the children begin being haunted by their mother, all but the youngest Ian (M. Adhiyat), who can only communicate using sign language. Mawarni terrorizes her children through the radio or their toys—and these moments provide some very creative, genuine scares.

The plumbing goes out in the house early on, and the family becomes dependent on water from the well, which is located in their bathroom. It’s so completely different from the Westernized bathrooms that I’m familiar with and that added a lot of creepiness for me. Something is in the well and seems to be beckoning the children, yet they can’t really avoid that area of the house. They need to get water for basic necessities, and they have to use the bathroom. So I just ended up being terrified whenever one of the kids had to pee.

Grandma (Elly D. Luthan) comes to visit and ends up dying in the family manor after writing a letter. Thereafter, her presence enters a scene every once in a while, represented by some asthmatic wheezing, which is unnerving. These two matriarchal spirits seem to be locked in battle over the family. Rini searches for the person that the letter is addressed to and finds a hippie writer named Budiman (Egy Fedly). He tells Rini that her grandmother disapproved of her mother as being a singer was not a dignified career. When her only son married Mawarni, she never gave her blessing to the couple. Mawarni was unable to get pregnant for a long time, and the grandmother believed that she asked Satan for her children. Budiman says she joined a fertility cult which will takes a member’s last child as a sacrifice on their seventh birthday. And guess whose birthday is coming up in three days? Ian’s.

 The hippie gives Rini an occult magazine that looks like the Indonesian version of the National Enquirer, and she takes it to the family home but doesn’t really believe in all that it contains. Later, though, she sets up one of her mom’s old records and discovers that when she plays it backward, she can hear chanting in an ancient language.

She asks the village holy man what she should do as the family continues to be haunted by their mother, and he tells her to pray. And pray she does, which sets up one of the most delicious scares of the movie.

The plot gets a little Scooby-Dooish after that when the hippie tries to get a revised version of the article to Rini, telling her what to do in order to save her family. But it’s done stylishly with faceless cult members surrounding the house with synchronized movements.

Anwar has followed up with a sequel to this movie after Satan’s Slaves became a huge hit in Indonesia and Malaysia: Satan’s Slaves 2—Communion. It just came out this year, but I’m unable to find yet on any streaming platforms. Perhaps it will be around for next year’s 31 Days of Horror in October.

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