Although I wouldn’t call myself an avid movie-goer — I’m much more of a “is it on Netflix or Hulu yet?” kind of gal — I would be remiss not to tell you, reader, whoever you are, to stop what you’re doing immediately, get yourself to a theater, and experience the true psychological horror that is Joko Anwar’s Impetigore. I say this with utmost authority, as someone who did exactly that after being told by someone with even less authority on the topic than myself: the Internet.
Okay, so the Internet didn’t exactly say to me, “Stop what you’re doing immediately, get yourself to a theater, and experience the true psychological horror that is Joko Anwar’s Impetigore.”, but it got me to the point where I did so all the same.
When invited to travel to Park City, Utah with a couple of friends over intersession, I wasn’t fully convinced I’d find things to do while they were skiing double-black-diamonds. My hesitation was eased when I realized we would be in the city during the Sundance Film Festival. In preparation of purchasing tickets and waiting in Sundance’s online queue, I frantically researched the different titles, their categories, current buzz (if they’d already premiered), and compared those things with our own itinerary.
At long last, I was finally at the front of the queue, and I quickly noticed that shows for our top three choices on Tuesday night were all sold out. Fueled by a digital countdown clock in the corner of my screen, I automatically chose our fourth pick, an Indonesian film called Impetigore, in the Midnight category. Reader, trust me when I say I wasn’t ready for what was to come.
Before I continue, I feel the need to preface my adoration for Impetigore by mentioning that I really don’t do horror movies. Billed as a horror film different from most, Impetigore was said to not rely on jump-scares, but rather psychological terror, to evoke the feeling of deep uncanniness that horror fanatics crave. Why this gave me a sense of surety, thinking that I made the right choice and wouldn’t be quite as scared as usual, I don’t know. Any security from that description, however, was violently ripped away within the frightening first ten minutes of the film.
Impetigore opens with its protagonist, a young woman called Maya, working as a toll booth operator and lamenting about her finances, when she is attacked during an eerily calm night shift by a stranger who seems to know more about her past than even Maya herself. This confrontation prompts a sudden desire to learn about her own heritage, kept secret by an “aunt” who raised her in the city her whole life. From thereon, the plot continues, but in the spirit of not spoiling some key elements of surprise, I won’t say anything more.
Though I can’t say much about the structure of the film other than the fact that it kept me wholly engaged (and terrified and disgusted) for the entire 107 minutes, I can say I was impressed by the majority female cast who drove the plot forward at every turn as protagonists, supporting characters, and principal antagonists. Even more, it was so refreshing to watch a horror film that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks like jump-scares and unnecessarily abrupt shrieking to generate a sense of fear; it was still long after the initial racing of my heart that I felt terrified of what I had just experienced.
Director Joko Anwar is already a known entity in the Indonesian film market, with another of his horror-genre films, Satan’s Slave, billed as the top-grossing horror film in Indonesia from 2017 until recently. This record was topped by none other than Anwar’s most recent film and my own current source of nightmares, Impetigore. In my opinion, Impetigore is an amazing film and its success around the world is a testament to this piece of truly well-done, terrifying, and unnerving cinema.