Review: A “Palpable Sense of Mystery” Exists With ‘Impetigore’

Bruce Purkey reviews director/writer Joko Anwar's 2019 feature "Impetigore."

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Impetigore, now streaming on Shudder, is the second release by Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar to garner attention by the Western world. Even though he has made quite a few films, not all horror, Anwar’s previous feature, Satan’s Slaves, made a splash worldwide, as horror fans discovered a blend of traditional horror mixed with elements unique to Indonesian culture.

Impetigore opens as two friends, Maya (Tara Basro) and Dini (Marissa Anita), are working just another night as toll booth operators. The crackling pre-credit sequence involves an unknown driver who has been driving through Maya’s booth every night, staring at her as he passes. As Maya and Dina chat on the phone, unable to see each other from their prospective posts, the man reappears. The scene is both eerie, exciting, and incredibly tense, showcasing Anwar’s flare at staging an exciting horror scene.

The remainder of the film involves Maya and Dini travelling to a remote village that may or may not have been Maya’s parent’s home. Maya was separated from her parents at a very young age and doesn’t remember her early life, so she hopes the trip will answer long-unanswered questions.

I have always been a sucker for films about creepy towns with dark histories, where the residents stare at the strangers passing though. From the moment Dini and Maya arrive at the town, they know something is not right. The people seem suspicious, distant. There is a funeral every day and some sort of curse is weighing down on the village. The cemetery is filled with way too many child-sized headstones.

Anwar imbues Impetigore with a palpable sense of mystery, but is also not afraid to deliver some disturbing gore for the hardened horror fan. The movie only falters in the third act where things seem to wrap up a bit too easily, the pacing is a bit inconsistent, and one too many flashbacks are used as exposition. Impetigore is a nearly great horror movie that is well-worth a watch and signals Anwar as a possible future great of modern horror.

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