A loose remake/prequel to the 1980 film of the same name, Satan’s Slave is a chilling story of how the sins of our parents haunt us in the present from director Joko Anwar.
A grief-stricken family comes face-to-face with the aftermath of their recently deceased mother’s deal with the devil to start a family in Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves. Set in 1981 in the outskirts of Jakarta, a former pop star, Mawarni Suwon, is bedridden due to a prolonged illness, and is looked after by her husband (Bront Palarae), mother-in-law (Elly D. Luthan), daughter Rini (Tara Basro), eldest son Tony (Endy Arfian), middle son Bondi (Nasar Anuz), and her youngest child, Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat), who is also deaf and mute. After a nightmare involving seeing her mother and a sinister doppelganger, Rini checks on her mother to find her dead.
Following Mawarni’s death, the father goes to Jakarta to settle a financial dispute, leaving his children and mother alone in the house. The children begin to see visions of their dead mother, and the grandmother mysteriously dies by drowning in the well. Rini finds a letter her grandmother was writing to an occult expert, and who tells Rini that their mother appears to have belonged to a Satan worshipping fertility cult that wants Ian as a sacrifice in reward for the birth of Mawarni’s other children. Rini and her siblings set off trying to figure out how to save Ian from his deadly fate, while dealing with ghosts and cult members trying to exact the price promised to them.
Satan’s Slave is a horror movie that checks all of the boxes: There’s ghostly visions, haunted houses, deals with the devil, sex cults, there’s even a scene where a record is played backward to reveal a hidden satanic message. Despite being chock full of clichés, it manages to still feel fresh and entertaining. Anwar successfully doles out the suspense: We don’t have to wait long before the scares start coming, but he doesn’t pack in the jump scares too quickly so that they lose their effect later on. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about what he does, but he does it with an appreciation to the craft of horror films that is admirable and wholly enjoyable.
Anwar does seem to wear his influences on his sleeve, and the debt owed to Asian horror (à la Ju-On and Ringu) and American horror (Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen) is apparent. That said, it does feel like a product of Indonesia, utilizing Islamic traditions rather than Buddhism or Christianity. Anwar’s talent is that he can take these influences and turn it into something that is something new. There are plenty of scares, but some good laughs to break up the tension. Ian as a character is especially funny; when Bondi sees a light in the cemetery and assumes it’s a zombie, Ian responds “A smart zombie, it can use a flashlight.” The movie does delve into some hokeyness with a recurring theme of “family love triumphs all,” but it’s not overly sentimental.
Without having seen the original Satan’s Slave, it’s hard to say how much of this movie is a remake and how much is a true prequel. The original has been hard to find for a long time, but this remake has been a big success in Indonesia, so perhaps this will spur on a re-release of the original. Satan’s Slaves may not break much in the way of new ground for the horror genre, but it’s a well done supernatural suspense with plenty of scares to keep you entertained.