Monday, October 12, 2020

Nightstream Review: Kimo Stamboel's 'The Queen of Black Magic'

An Indonesian remake of an early ‘80s witch-drenched horror tale from director Kimo Stamboel (Headshot, DreadOut) and writer Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves). I’m already in the bag for The Queen of Black Magic. Add to that influences ranging from Mystics of Bali to Evil Dead to J-Horror and more, and you’ve got something. It doesn’t hurt that the execution is creepy, dark, and bleak, with a decided mean streak running through the entire film.


Three childhood friends—Hanif (Ario Bayu), Jefri (Miller Khan), and Anton (Tanta Ginting)—families in tow, journey to the remote orphanage where they were raised to visit the dying man who raised them all. When I say remote, think a place that doesn’t appear on maps. We know right away this isn’t going to go well for anyone involved. 


[Related Reading: 11 Movies to Check Out at Nightstream Film Fest]


The setup isn’t terribly original, but executed with solid horror chops. This place has a dark past, secrets that involve the trio, local lore about its troubled past, off-limits rooms, and maybe it was a mental hospital once upon a time for good measure. From there, however, it blazes its own trail, combining supernatural revenge, folk magic, skin-crawling bugs, and just when it appears pitch black and desolate, things turn even darker in a very real, very grim way.


The Queen of Black Magic is not a kind movie. It doesn’t spare anyone, especially not children. Not only does it put the husbands through the ringer, the wives—Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid), Eva (Imelda Therinne), and Lina (Salvita Decorte)—also go through hell. We’re talking giant centipedes ripping out of their bodies, nightmarish hallucinations, and all manner of truly stomach-churning gore and torment.


[Related Reading: 'DreadOut' Movie Review]


More than just brutality for the sake of brutality, though there is plenty of that, Stamboel creates a sensation of deep dread, even from the first moments, marinating in creeping terror, unfurling one horrific secret after the next. He and Anwar use the character’s personalities and fears to squeeze every bit fright out of them, cooking up horrifically fitting fates for them. There are things that might make even hardcore gore hounds gag.


Hanif and Nadya, along with their three kids, form the center of the story. The others don’t get as much to do as the film focuses on their family and occasionally fade from the narrative. But Bayu and Al Rashid definitely carry their load, capturing the parental fear with children in peril, the overall terror of being haunted by vengeful spirits, and the twisting downward spiral of secrets and deception that burrows further than anyone can imagine and that refuse to stay hidden in the depths any longer. They give a grounded, human edge to the otherworldly horror.


[Related Reading: Kimo Stamboel's 'The Queen of Black Magic' Trailer is Here to Freak You Out]


Bleak and dark, The Queen of Black Magic not only updates the original but brings its own edge of unhinged genre madness. Kimo Stamboel and Joko Anwar never flinch when it comes to depicting the onscreen horrors, magical or otherwise, and the result brings audiences in only to pummel them. It lands on Shudder soon. [Grade: B]


Find the Rest of Our Nightstream Coverage Here.

No comments: