The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
the queen of black magic | remake | kimo stamboel | joko anwar | ario bayu | hannah al rashid | adhisty zara | witchcraft | witch | supernatural | ritual | mystery | thriller | indonesia | muzakki ramdhan | ari irham | ade firman hakim | sheila dara aisha | tanta ginting
Film: The Queen of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam)
Director: Kimo Stamboel
Writer: Joko Anwar
Starring: Ario Bayu, Hannah Al Rashid and Adhisty Zara
This was a movie that I didn’t even realize I talked about when I was going through the works of writer of Joko Anwar. I brought up this film due to him writing and directing 2020 release of Impetigore and stated he had this one that he written as well. When I saw his name attached, I knew I had to see this one. I will admit I heard some buzz as Marknado had this as one of his favorites for January and Exploding Heads Horror Movie Podcast also covered it on an episode. I’ve now given it a second viewing to see how it holds up for me. The synopsis here is families are terrorized at an orphanage. Someone wants them dead, apparently with black magic that is very deadly.
We start this movie off with an interesting set up in my opinion. We have a father of Hanif (Ario Bayu) driving his wife, Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid) and his three children to the orphanage he grew up in. Their only daughter is Dina (Adhisty Zara), their oldest boy is Sandi (Ari Irham) and their youngest is also a boy of Haqi (Muzakki Ramdhan). The man who runs the place is sick and they want to make his limited time on Earth better, if possible. Hanif has done well for himself after leaving the orphanage. His children are complaining about the lack of cellphone reception, but they look like they’re happy overall. Things get a bit dower when he hits something while not fully paying attention to where he’s going. It does appear to be a deer, but we see it could have been something else.
They then arrive at the orphanage. Hanif meets with a couple that he grew up with in Maman (Ade Firman Hakim) and Siti (Sheila Dara Aisha). They never left and are caring for Pak Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru) who is the sick man in charge of this place. Also coming are Hanif’s closest friends from his time living here of Anton (Tanta Ginting), his wife of Eva (Imelda Therinne) as well as Jefri (Miller Khan) and his new bride of Lina (Salvita Decorte).
Also living at this orphanage is Hasbi (Giulio Parengkuan), who is a lot like Hanif. He’s had chances to get adopted, but elected to stay and help. There is also Rani (Shenina Cinnamon). She is interesting in that she was dropped when she was ten as her mother could no longer watch over her. She still believes she will come back for her. The rest of the children who are orphaned are away on a trip, but due back soon.
We learn soon after, this place has a checkered past despite how fondly the trio of guys remember it or how it is presented by the two teens living there. There is a locked room where Ibu Mirah (Ruth Marini) died. Haqi is curious about what happened to her. Hanif notices something on his car and goes back to see what he really hit at kilometer marker 81. It is there that he makes a grisly discover that really gets this night of terror started.
That is where I want to leave my recap for this movie. It gets you up to speed without really spoiling anything. I would also say this is about the end of the first act as well. What this movie really does well is atmosphere. The movie doesn’t really have to lean in too much that we’re in the present. It deals with cellphones where the children all have them, but this place is so far out in the middle of nowhere, they don’t work. Rani doesn’t know what WiFi or the internet is. This is partially being in how remote the orphanage is located, but it is also she is poor. I get the feel that we’re mixing the modern world here with Hanif, his family along with Anton and Jefri with their wives coming back to this place that is a bit more traditional. That really works where the true horror comes from as it is something that a more rational mind cannot fathom as well. It falls into Anwar’s style for the two movies I’ve seen from him as a director.
If you’ve read my reviews of Anwar’s films of Satan’s Slaves or Impetigore, then you know I love how he gives us a look into the lives of people from a country that is much different from where I live. We see that there are religions like Muslim that are practiced there, but a good portion are following more pagan beliefs that are indigenous to the area. Seeing how these rituals and things play out interests me for sure.
That is where I want to go to next. Again, without spoiling things the title of this movie gives away that there is going to be black magic and witchcraft going on. This movie doesn’t waste any time in getting into it and on top of that, I think it does an excellent job in introducing characters to us. We have a large cast here. I figured this would either have characters that would flee or they were there as body count. It takes a darker turn after Rani reveals what she says happened to Mirah and then when Hanif realizes what he really hit. This movie doesn’t pull any punches and gets pretty horrific. Children aren’t completely safe here and I think that is what ramped up the horror for me. What I also like is that we don’t know what the truth is and we get multiple variations of it as things happen.
There is a brief bit I want to go into here having now seen this a second time, I love the idea that characters remember things the way they want to. When pressed for the truth, they have to come to terms with it. Mirah is presented as a villain, but maybe she wasn’t. Bandi seems like a benevolent man, but that might not be the case. The reason for what is happening here, there might be some deserving people to be punished. It is quite an interesting idea and how it unfolds.
I think the effects are where I want go next. We get quite a bit of practical ones, which if you know me, I love that. There are some scenes in this movie that made me cringe and call out along with having my hands go numb from what I was seeing. That is effective for me to believe what I am seeing for sure. There are torture elements here and there are also some interesting things that characters reveal that are used against them later. I’ll be honest, that is good writing to me. They build up some of the set pieces and I was on board for it. We also get some CGI here. I’ll be honest, some of it works for me or at least I didn’t mind it, especially when it enhances some of the sequences. There are also some that didn’t necessarily work either. The insects you can tell are CGI. I get it up, but it didn’t look great. Regardless, this movie has some great cinematography as well.
Going along with the good writing is good acting. Bayu is solid as our defacto hero. He had the chances to get adopted from what we hear, but elected to stay and help those he became close with. This makes for an interesting character of Hanif as the reveals in the movie are made. I also love the duality we get with the character of Hasbi and I think Parengkuan plays that well. Rashid is really good as Hanif’s wife and I love the growth of her character. We learn that he hides things from her to not upset her, but she’s amazingly strong by the end. Zara, Ramdhan and Irham are all good as their kids. I like the rest of the cast that rounds this movie out for the characters that we need for sure.
Then the last thing to go into before closing this out would be the soundtrack and sound design. I think for the former, the selections made were good. They fit the scenes and help to ramp up the feel that we need for them. I did find it interesting that they tended to go a bit louder at times where it actually distorted the sound on my speakers. I’m not sure if that was intended, but it worked for me. The other part here is the sound design. I love that they play with hearing someone off screen that draws characters while also hearing their agony was quite effective for the atmosphere.
In conclusion here, I think this is an effective movie. I like the setting that we’re given, how the characters are introduced and the dark atmosphere that is built here. If I really have any issues after this first viewing, I don’t think some of the CGI works for me. This isn’t to say that it ruined things, but it did affect me a bit. The story keep me interested, the reveals worked and this movie really did make me cringe at times for where they took things. I would say that this is a good movie, just missing out on being great.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10