Best Indonesian Horror Movies to Watch Right Now - VRGyani News and Media


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Best Indonesian Horror Movies to Watch Right Now

In the last few years alone there has been a surge of Indonesian horror films that offer enlightening cultural perspectives, haunting exploration of folklore, gruesome gore, and relatable fears. Many of these films are a product of post-New Order society, the current political climate offering more freedom of expression and creativity. Through these films, the filmmakers are not only crafting sinister and compelling horror stories but powering their cultural voice and showcasing what their brand of horror can offer the rest of the world. Here are 9 terrifying films to introduce you to a movement.

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Indonesian horror is very folklore-focused, tapping into childhood fears, forewarnings, and problems within society that need to be addressed. There are many tales of vengeful feminine spirits who haunt and seek revenge for the wrongs done to them. These malicious spirits represent the mistreatment and inequality for women ranging from physical violence to poor healthcare, including increasingly high mortality rates for infants. One major cultural monster explored heavily in the new wave of Indonesian horror films is Kuntilanak, a hideous and ferocious female ghost who masquerades as a beautiful woman, carrying soothing, floral tones to lure young children to her. Her origins lie in losing her child and own life when giving childbirth, leaving her in a mournful, rage-filled existence that urged her to take back what she lost. Kuntilanak is described to have sharp claws, piercing teeth, a deformed face, and red eyes. She will take misbehaving children, but she primarily takes children who go willingly or are unhappy within their own families. The tale of Kuntilanak addresses not only what the horrors of losing a child can drive you to, but the importance of ensuring the children who do survive are wanted and loved.

The 2018 film, Kuntilanak, dives into the familial and societal themes tied to the legend. The film is told from the perspective of five adopted orphans who are caught between the absence of their deceased parents and embracing a new family. They begin to see terrifying images of a woman who offers a striking resemblance to the legend of Kuntilanak after a cursed mirror is placed in their home. Despite their differences, the kids must stick together to investigate and ultimately defeat this terrible force who seeks to break up their family and take the children for her own. Kuntilanak’s tone and atmosphere is an intricate balance of fun childlike curiosity and grim terror, at times playful and vibrant and at other times disquieting and malevolent. One of the orphaned children, Miko (Ali Fikry), is an eccentric oddball with a fascination with classic horror stories and folklore. His enthusiasm, insight, and youthful energy offer a fun, Monster Squad-esque feel. Much of Indonesian horror deals with children and Kuntilanak nails the childlike wonder and horror inherent in the chilling tale of loss and fighting for one's family. It also shows the bravery and strength any of us is capable of, especially when banding together and tapping into one's inner abilities. Kuntilanak is one of the more uplifting and hopeful Indonesian horror films.

Folklore - “A Mother’s Love”

The Indonesian chapter of HBO Asia’s Folklore series, entitled “A Mother’s Love”, humanizes another sinister ghost in Indonesian culture, Wewe Gombel. Like Kuntilanak, Wewe was determined to be a mother but denied this opportunity, creating a powerful dark entity who will stop at nothing for her chance at motherhood. In death, she searches for unhappy and uncared for children, providing for them in her way. Wewe only takes children who willingly come with her and whose families would let them go. The episode, written and directed by the visionary Indonesian horror director Joko Anwar, is an emotional journey of a broken, desperate family and a surreal roller coaster of human loss through a terrifying descent. It digs into the harm of negligent parents and the fragility of the human mind, especially in coping with tragedy.

Anwar has proven himself as a pioneer in the new wave of Indonesian horror filmmaking through his hauntingly beautiful, grotesque, and depth-filled approach. His films have let horror fans around the world peek into the human experience, fears, and horror roots of Indonesian legends. Most Indonesian horror films deal with a lot of common fears, themes, and even a brand of evil down to the specific look of the entity. While Anwar’s films dabble in many of these staples, his remarkable visual style and tendency to veer from the norms offers a unique cinematic experience that speaks to wider societal issues. Anwar’s films are arguably among the strongest in modern Indonesian horror and an ideal starting point for horror fans that haven’t ventured into the country's horror cinema.

Satan’s Slaves

Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves, a reimagining of the 1981 film of the same title, honors the original cult favorite which helped put Indonesian horror on the map. The remake crafts dark, eerie, enticing suspense partnered with crisp, nightmarish visuals and an atmospheric score that slowly unpeels the layers of the otherworldly forces haunting the characters. The film opens on a family struggling financially and mentally, trying to help care for their mother who has been suffering from a mysterious illness for years. When she dies, her children have far more to contend with than their grief as they begin to be hunted by her spirit and the dark secrets she kept. Satan’s Slaves is a creepy and captivating film that balances jump scares and internal battles with darkness, looking at the difficulty of coming to terms with loss when its spirit attacks those left behind so mercilessly.

Satan’s Slaves is a wonderful example of how Indonesian horror showcases and examines its legends and identity while also using the horror genre to examine many universal struggles. Our main villain shows the classic Indonesian representation of evil: an initially beautiful dark entity who becomes contorted, animalistic, and utterly vicious. As in many Indonesian horror films, our characters are haunted by the face of their departed family member, but soon must accept something far more malignant has taken the place of the one they lost. The film taps into the very human fear and desperation of wanting to have children, which created a dark pact with this devil-worshipping cult who is now coming back to collect payment on the cost of that family. The ill mother, once a popular singer, can no longer afford medical care and has no choice but to slowly wither away, in turn making her family suffer. This adds to the subtle commentary in Indonesian horror films on flaws in the healthcare system and the pain and horrors that may have been avoided otherwise. As in many Indonesian horror films, the protagonists are also struggling financially just as much as they are emotionally and physically, serving as a critique on the large divide between the wealthy and poor and how hard it is simply to endure and survive if you are in the latter category. Any character that is motivated by money in Indonesian horror, even if they are simply trying to improve their quality of life, suffers ghastly consequences. The poor are punished for simply trying to live.


One of Anwar’s strongest films and a true stand-out in recent horror cinema is Impetigore. After a terrific response in Indonesian film festivals, it went on to have its international premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and was Indonesia’s feature film entry to the Academy Awards. A 20-year-old orphan, Maya (Tara Basro), is attacked at work one night. Her attacker, a desperate young man, claims her blood is the key to destroying a curse that plagues his people. She manages to survive but can’t help be curious about her parents and the seemingly cursed bloodline they left her. When she discovers their fortune, she decides to seek out this home in hopes of claiming it for her own and freeing herself from her financial burdens. Her best friend, Dini (Marissa Anita), accompanies her to the remote village that proves to be increasingly perilous as dark secrets, ritualistic cults, and sinister magic are revealed to fuel this community who only seek to hunt Maya.

Impetigore is a wonderfully crafted story, immediately pulling you into both Maya’s struggle and the high adrenaline horror. Her resistance to being condemned by dark secrets is equally refreshing and sets her up as a strong protagonist. The film is eerily beautiful, intriguing throughout, and builds to an incredibly intense and grisly escalation. Its isolated location offers ample tension and a feeling of entrapment. The film tackles popular familial themes prevalent in Indonesian horror such as examining the lengths some would go for their child and how children are often condemned by the choices of their parents. Maya is ferocious and fights until the end, refusing to leave until she knows the curse that started because of her existence is set to rest.

Impetigore offers a unique storyline and perspective, a sinister and stylistic visual palette, and gory depictions of sacrificial killing in the name of primal human desires. Not for the squeamish, it’s a film that holds nothing back. This film isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who can appreciate gore when coupled with a meaningful reflection of the desperation and vileness man is capable of, it’s incredibly satisfying and will leave you utterly engrossed among every twisted turn.

The Queen of Black Magic

Another stand-out in the new wave of Indonesian horror and my personal favorite is The Queen of Black Magic, written by Anwar and directed by Kimo Stamboel. (I highlighted the film previously in another article, "Loved ‘Fear Street’? Watch These 5 haunting Movies and TV Shows Next.") The film follows an untraditional family of orphans who revisit their childhood home and find that the darkness once buried has come back with an unforgiving vengeance. As the title suggests, it deals with black magic and a ferocious female spirit who will not rest, but she isn’t the true villain. Building off the cultural lore, she’s another case of a dark spirit who sought to love and protect her children but was villainized and silenced by lies. The deceit and violence toward children and women that has remained hidden and thrived unchecked will finally be exposed. While the film’s horror is primarily focused on the traditional feminine vengeful spirit, it also morphs into many shapes and forms, merging with the body horror genre. The film hits on many phobias—parasites, insects, possession, the paranormal, and even self-mutilation—that will make most watchers squirm. The Queen of Black Magic is an incredibly layered film that tackles everything from human suffering to domestic violence to damaging societal expectations.

May the Devil Take You

May The Devil Take You follows many of the norms in story and circumstances, beginning with an abandoned child, Alfie (Chelsea Islan) who visits her infected, dying father. This forces her to see the family her father left her to raise. As her father’s condition worsens, his children face off against a crippling evil that demands their father's debt be paid. May The Devil Take You creates a chilling atmosphere among a dysfunctional family film as darkness invades our protagonist's body and soul. It follows the trope of one’s parents’ seedy deeds condemning them and in turn their children. The film showcases the unforgiving price of greed and how choosing success over family will only ruin you in the end. The film offers fantastic gore and creature effects from the father’s body horror infection visibly creeping under his skin to the possessed victims oozing blackness, elongating tongues, and viciously devouring their prey in a brutal fight of corrupted darkness vs. human resilience. The creature movement is notable here as well, creating a primal, deranged, spider-like movement and a daunting, ethereal predator that is incredibly creepy.

While heavily infused with its own traditions and relationship to fear, Indonesian horror is very aware of American horror cinema and often honors it. Modern-day Indonesian horror is largely dark entity-focused, nearly every single film escalating to possession in the form of a dead loved one. Visually, this dark, demonic entity offers a striking likeness in both creature design and behavior to Evil Dead’s The Deadites while their essence comes from Indonesian urban legends that far predate the franchise. The Third Eye has definite Western influences such as The Sixth Sense and Insidious while exploring common ground among Indonesian horror like the exploration of the fragile veil between the dead and the living and what it can do to a young mind who can hardly distinguish between the two. Additionally, there is a monster lurking under a young girl’s bed in May the Devil Take You, which is reminiscent of the iconic bed-shaking scene in The Exorcist.

The Doll / The Doll 2/ Sabrina

The Doll films, a series based on a murdered child’s doll who holds a demonic spirit, offer clear homage to The Conjuring universe and James Wans’ filmmaking style. The films give us Sabrina, a doll who is perhaps even more creepy looking than Annabelle, and a married paranormal investigating duo reminiscent of The Warrens. Like the Warrens, these mediums are very faith-focused when it comes to their power to fend off demonic activity. Despite the similarity, this speaks just as much to Indonesian values and their relationship in the genre to the devil. Having faith is often seen as the only true weapon in fighting against evil in these films.

While some of the homages might appeal to Western horror fans, Indonesian horror is at its strongest when it is fueled by exploration of its own traditions, lore, and the telling problems and fears those stories forewarn of. Most of the origins of the feminine spirits left in unrest and anguish are revealing of society’s expectation for women to produce offspring. If they don’t they are often left by their husband or cursed by another close to him, creating the monster who is more often than not just desperate for a close, loving bond. Nearly every horror film in Indonesian cinema focuses on orphaned children, commenting on how even in non-traditional families, there is no lack of existing children who need love and nurturing in this world. The dark spirits that were once victimized by their failures in motherhood manage to find strength even in their descent to darkness. Likewise, nearly every modern Indonesian horror film shows a young woman haunted and possessed, her body and rights being taken away from her, offering another striking statement on how women are often attacked and manipulated. Sticking with your family and fighting for them, even into another world, is the predominant pattern. Through this these victimized women find a way to resist even the well-intentioned, lonely, and troubled spirits who seek to capture them.

KEEP READING: The 75 Best Horror Movies of All-Time

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