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The Queen of Black Magic Review

January 29, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
The Queen of Black Magic
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The Queen of Black Magic Review  

Directed by: Kimo Stamboel
Written by: Joko Anwar

* Ario Bayu – Hanif
* Hannah Al Rashid – Nadya
* Adhisty Zara – Dina
* Muzakki Ramdhan – Haqi
* Ari Irham – Sandi
* Ade Firman Hakim – Maman
* Sheila Dara Aisha – Siti
* Tanta Ginting – Anton
* Miller Khan – Jefri
* Imelda Therinne – Eva
* Salvita Decorte – Lina

Running Time: 99 minutes
Not Rated

Indonesia is a vastly underrated region of the world when it comes to horror films. This may not be news to many hardcore horror buffs who have long appreciated what the region brings in terms of frights, but to many American moviegoers the country is often overlooked as a hotbed of Asian horror in favor of Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. That situation has been fortunately improving in recent years and 2020 even saw Impetigore, the most recent film from Joko Anwar, submitted as the country’s submission for the Academy Awards.

While the spotlight on Indonesia as a go-to place for horror is fairly new in the U.S., the country has a long tradition in the genre. One of its cult classics is Ratu Ilmu Hitam, aka The Queen of Black Magic. The 1981 film about a witch taking vengeance against those who wronged her stars Indonesian horror queen Suzzanna and remains beloved among fans of the country’s horror. Anwar himself has long been a fan, and it’s fitting that his latest is a loose remake of the same film with another horror veteran behind the camera in director Kimo Stamboel of The Mo Brothers (Macabre, Headshot), now available on Shudder.

The remake, which is now available for streaming on Shudder, takes the basic premise and creates its own story. The film introduces us to Hanif (Bayu), a man who grew up in an orphanage with his best friends Anton (Ginting) and Jefri (Khan). When the elderly director of the facility falls ill, Hanif takes his wife Nadya (Al Rashid) and his three children (Ramdhan, Irham, and Zara) to the orphanage to meet the old man and reunite with his friends.

While a quick moment on the car ride spooks them, Hanif and his family arrive at the rural location, meeting up with Anton and Jefri as well as their partners Eva (Therinne) and Lina (Decorte). They learn that the orphanage’s young residents are off on a field trip and so they plan to spend the night there. Things aren’t quite what they seem though, and it soon becomes clear that something is stalking them. Old secrets are brought to life as the story of Mrs. Mirah, a caretaker who died years ago, is brought into focus. Whether the group will make it through the night depends on how resourceful – and honest – they can be with each other.

The story that Anwar devised for The Queen of Black Magic is quite different from the 1981 original, which focused on a woman set up to die and who wreaks her vengeance through black magic. Anwar’s take is closer to his favored theme for horror as seen in Impetigore and Satan’s Slaves, that of the past returning to haunt the protagonists and the next generation. It’s a concept that we’ve seen many times before in horror, and Anwar’s screenplay doesn’t add a ton that’s new to it.

That said, he delivers well on his strengths with natural dialogue and engaging characters. Anwar tends toward slow burn horror and his previous horror entries are fantastic but can be a bit harder to penetrate. This is his most accessible film to American moviegoers, hitting some very familiar horror beats. He stays nicely on point here, and while audiences may have some strong ideas what’s coming, he’s not afraid to shift expectations and the film benefits from that.

It also reaps the rewards of a somewhat extended first act, which takes its time to really establish the characters and their relationships to each other. There is not a lot of detail or nuance in these characters on the page, but Anwar’s script instead allows us to spend time with them and get to know them through their interactions with each other – Dina’s quick crush on one of the few teens from the orphanage still there, little moments of teasing between the various adult couples. These moments allow us to get attached to the characters to the point that when things get gnarly, we have an investment in wanting them to survive.

Once that introductory act is done with, the horror ramps up quick and hard. Stamboel takes the cues in Anwar’s script and goes full bore, leaning into some nasty horror moments that will give full-body cringes. Those with phobias about insects be warned here, because Stamboel revels in creepy crawlies for this one. The final hour of the film gives you few chances to catch your breath as dark magic plagues those at the orphanage – and regardless of age, no one is safe. It’s a dark and gory affair that flirts with the edge of too much once or twice, but the director nimbly dances that line without falling over it.

It all coalesces into a final act where things go completely off the rails for our characters in the worst way for them (and the best for us). The revelations of what’s at work in this film aren’t likely to be a shock for those who have seen Anwar’s other works, but they’re played effectively, and the cast does a very admirable job to make it work. Bayu is an affable focus character, though it is Al Rashid as Nadya who really steals the show here. The child actors deliver the goods in their roles as well, while the supporting cast have a bit less to work with than Bayu or Al Rashid but make the absolute most of their time.

There are a few flaws in here, to be fair. The dark magical violence of the film requires CGI in some parts and while most of it is quite passable, a couple in particular are not great. The truly nightmarish final act wraps up a little bit too suddenly, with an epilogue that feels a little off compared to the rest. But these are minor complaints in a film that is largely knocking it out of the park. This may not quite have the thematic depth of some of Anwar’s other scripts, but it makes up for that with enough balls to the wall insane horror moments that this’ll stick with you all the same.

The Queen of Black Magic is now available to stream on Shudder.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Kimo Stamboel's The Queen of Black Magic is an intense horror ride that, once it really gets going at about the 35 minute mark, never really lets up. Joko Anwar's script leans a bit more accessible to American audiences than his previous (also excellent) efforts and doesn't hold back in terms of delivering toe-curling horror sequences. An able cast led by Ario Bayu and Hannah Al Rashid keeps us invested as throughout the experience and while the dark story elements aren't the most original, they're carried off effectively. It's a vicious little film that doesn't hold much back and has plenty in it to satisfy your horror cravings.