The Queen of Black Magic takes a little time to get started, but once the brutal horror kicks in, it never lets up.
Indonesian cinema has been producing horror titles for decades, but these frightening films have only received wider global recognition in recent years. In 1981, a little-known Indonesian horror film called The Queen of Black Magic was released and received notoriety domestically. Now, Shudder is releasing a remake of the film, and while it may have a muddled start, the movie is a disturbing and gory addition to the supernatural horror genre.
2021‘s The Queen of Black Magic follows several men who travel with their families to the orphanage that they grew up in. After Hanif (Ario Bayu) leaves to investigate a car accident he had experienced earlier, an evil that dates back to Hanif’s childhood and involves the dark history of the orphanage rears its ugly head. What ensues is a chaotic nightmare in which insects are utilized in some of the most violent ways ever put to screen.
Having not seen the original film, it’s hard to note what aspects of the original movie are included in the reimagining and what is entirely new material. With that said, the film has a unique sense of terror, combining elements from Asian horror classics like Ringu and Ju-on with something much more gruesome. The Queen of Black Magic may deal with a black-haired spirit, but the way the horror unfolds is much different than many other supernatural horror films.
The villain of the film exacts revenge using black-magic, and there is no shying away from the sadism that ensues. While many other supernatural horror films hailing from Asia will choose to focus more on atmosphere and suspense, this film lingers on its lengthy torture scenes, feeling almost like a ghostly version of the works of Eli Roth. However, the movie is not building up just for its audience to witness the brutal deaths of its characters as an American horror film like Hostel would. Instead, it examines guilt and revenge in a very raw and human way, while delivering some impressive gore and memorable scares.
While effectively scary, The Queen of Black Magic opens slow and is a bit muddled in its first half-hour. There are lots of characters, and the script doesn’t do a great job of introducing the audiences to every one distinctly. The movie wants viewers to care about these people, but it’s hard when they really don’t know a majority of them. To complicate things, the set-up is also a little loose at first. It’s almost as if the audience is expected to automatically understand the situation these characters are in without receiving backstory. However, once the horror begins in the second act, the problems with the script can easily be overlooked.
The titular queen has the power to force people to commit violent acts on themselves and others. The film doesn’t shy away from these atrocities and there are some gnarly sequences on display. One of the films most vicious involves a bus full of children who are not safe from a horrific fate just because of their age. To put it simply, The Queen of Black Magic is the kind of unsafe horror that is not afraid to push any and all boundaries.
Even though it can be convoluted at times, the film’s screenplay attempts to add meaning to its horror. The motive behind the villain reveals metaphors hidden deep within the film about abuse and gaslighting and explores how tragedy can repeat itself over and over if it is not properly addressed. The fact that this film can provide deeper meaning within its grisly violence and effective supernatural scares is nothing short of incredible.
While it gets off to a bit of a rocky start, including a fairly shoddy-looking car crash, The Queen of Black Magic redeems itself in its second and third acts with some great body horror and terrifying set-pieces. When the movie explodes into the hardcore horror romp it truly is, it elegantly balances many different aspects of the genre that aren’t usually blended together successfully. All in all, The Queen of Black Magic is a reminder that Indonesian horror has made a comeback in a huge way.
The Queen of Black Magic was written by Joko Anwar and directed by Kimo Stamboel and stars Ario Bayou, Hannah Al Rashid, Zara Jkt48, Ari Irham, and Muzakki Ramdhan. It will be available on Shudder on Thursday, Jan. 28th.
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