M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Released on July 23, 2020. Streaming exclusively on SHUDDER!
aka PEREMPUAN TANAH JAJANAM
Directed by Joko Anwar
Written by Joko Anwar
Starring Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Marissa Anita, Christine Hakim, Asmara Abigail, Kiki Narendra, Zidni Hakim, Faradina Mufti, Abdurrahman Arif, Muhammad Abe Baasyin, Mursiyanto, Ahmad Ramadhan, Latisya Ayu, Adi Irawan, T. Rifnu Wikana, Kuncoro P. Widi, Mian Tiara, Arbaiyah, Mariana Resli, Eka Nusa Pertiwi, Aghniny Haque, Sahadat Fahzan Fadlil, Karni
The reason I love international horror films like IMPETIGORE is that many of them take risks most Hollywood produced films wouldn’t dare go. IMPETIGORE is a vicious little fable from Joko Anwar, the filmmaker that brought us SATAN’S SLAVES and RITUAL, a pair of films that once seen, they are hard to forget. Anwar doesn’t care if you’re offended by the themes he covers in his films or the grapgic lengths he will go to communicate them. IMPETIGORE will most likely offend and disgust you, but it is also a very strong thriller about age old customs versus big city progressivism—more succinctly, the always relevant conflict between the old versus young.
IMPETIGORE begins with a highly suspenseful scene as Maya (Tara Basro) and her best friend Dini (Marissa Anita) chat with one another from their individual toll booths, an occupation that comes with both long lengths of boredom and contact with creepy drivers who pass by, take their ticket, and leer at them. In this scene, Maya speaks of a creepy driver who makes her uncomfortable and sure enough, he comes through shortly after. After a conflict that starts this film with a big old bang, Maya finds a clue that directs her back to her home village deep in the heart of Java to claim her former family home. Looking for an excuse to get out of the city, Maya and Dini venture into the jungle to reclaim her home and possibly sell it for high profit. But these young gals have no idea what they are walking into, as a curse has befallen a village and it all leads back to Maya’s childhood home—a home haunted by ghosts of the past and a village wide curse that all babies are born without their skin.
IMPETIGORE capably communicates its story of the rift between tradition and progressivism by giving Maya and Dini cocky and naïve attitudes. Even though they are a little leery of the village and its populace, they strut through the jungle as if they own it. It is inconceivable to both gals that they would be in danger and once things do escalate, it is hard for them to fully acknowledge just how deep in trouble they really are. This is the main theme for the first hour of the film and it’s a strong one—one I wish would have been ridden all the way to the end. Instead, things get more reliant on the big horror set pieces, the taboo breaking curse, and the over the top ending that is truly shocking and well-orchestrated. I feel up to a certain point, IMPETIGORE was a film focused on strong themes, but those themes take a back seat as the film progresses past the hour mark to something else.
There is still an old versus young conflict. Even right up to the end of the film, where the ancient tribe leader forces one character to make a choice between Maya and her. But somewhere along the way, the film becomes entrenched in Indonesian folklore. This is no less fascinating, as it really dives deep in what plays out as almost a cautionary fable, explaining why the children in the village are born skinless, who cursed the village, and how it happened. I found this section interesting, but a little long in the tooth and if there’s a criticism to be made here, I think I would say that I think a good chunk of this section could have been summed up more quickly to make this a brisker and more consistently exciting film.
I also had a bit of an issue with the consistency of characterization of Maya throughout the film. At the beginning, she is a ditzy city girl, screeching at the first sign of trouble. She is not really portrayed as a strong character and for a second, I thought she was being set up to be the first victim and the spotlight shifting to Dini, who seemed to be the more sensible and cautious of the two in the intro. But by the climax of the film, Maya is still around and is Sigourney Weaver-ing it up against the locals, full of confidence and vigor. I understand most final girls go through this metamorphosis, mustering the gumption to take on the antagonist by the end, but I think that the shift from Indonesian Valley Girl to village warrior was a leap that I don’t think the story justifies.
Despite those criticisms, IMPETIGORE takes some ballsy risks involving how it treats the babies in this story. There are quite a few child deaths, most of them newborns, that are going to be a tough watch for some—especially those viewers who are pregnant or with kids. Yes, this is morbid, but it is a gripping horror that works at making the viewer feel uncomfortable—something, quite frankly, that any good horror film should do. Even the shocking epilogue keeps this theme running and left me with my mouth agape. IMPETIGORE is savage cinema at its best. It is drenched in Indonesian folklore, heart wrenching drama, and rock-solid storytelling. Anwar has delivered another effective shocker, proving that some of the gutsiest filmmaking is being done outside of our own borders.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
#18 – IMPETIGORE
#19 – BUTT BOY
#20 – BECKY
#21 – UNDERWATER
#22 – THE DEAD CENTER
#23 – BLOOD MACHINES
#24 – ALONE
#25 – THE BEACH HOUSE
#26 – AMULET
#27 – LAKE OF DEATH
#28 – SEA FEVER
#29 – THE RENTAL
#30 – ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
#31 – REPLACE
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
Interested in advertising on MLMILLERWRITES? Feel free to contact me here and we can talk turkey!
Don’t forget to share, like, and come back tomorrow for more reviews!