Movie Review: A Ghostly curse in Indonesia — “The Queen of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam)”

The first hint I had of Indonesia’s thriving horror scene was the best segment of one of those horror anthologies that have been turning up in recent years. I think it was “V/H/S/2.”

“The Third Eye (Matin)” is another iHorror feature that sticks in the mind. The film doesn’t have to be the most original to leave a lasting impression, and the limited sample of bloody Indonesian exports I’ve watched have fit both descriptions.

There’s a healthy dose of “nothing new to see here” to the plot of Kimo Stamboel’s “The Queen of Black Magic.” Story beats and key components of the tale are familiar from many a film that’s preceded it.

But the simple, chilling effects — think “When Millipedes Attack!” — and not-quite-over-the-top gore set “Queen” apart and deliver a memorably gruesome moment or two.

It’s the story of an orphanage haunted by the horrors of its past, terrors visited on those who left there when three of them return, with their families, for a little reunion celebrating the dying old man who has long owned and run the place.

Scores of films have been built on those “Ghost Story” bones.

Those three “alumni” — Hanif (Ario Bayu), Anton (Tanta Ginting) and Jefri (Miller Khan) seem enthusiastic about being there, even if the old man who ran it (Yayu A.W. Unru) is confined to his bed, facing his final hours.

Two disfigured orphans who never left (Ade Firman Hakim, Sheila Dara Aisha) married and now run the place. They’re here to greet the three guys, their wives and Hanif’s three kids.

The place is empty because all the orphans went on a bus field trip and are due back. Hanif’s little boy (Muzakki Ramdhan) hears why one room has remained empty forever, and wants to hear all about the former employee who “practiced black magic” and had to be removed.

But those who used to live there know there’s more to the story. And the viewer knows that wasn’t a “deer” Haniq hit on the way there on their long drive through the country.

Pretty soon everybody else does, and some even know what’s become of that busload of children.

A “demon,” vengeful ghost or something is out for revenge. And with assorted employees, guests and family members always finding an excuse to separate — See? It’s not just ditzy Americans in “dead teenagers movies” who do that. — the bugs overwhelm this guest, instill the need to harm oneself to another, and so on.

This isn’t going to be pretty.

The cast is required to mime that “demon has me but I WON’T point the gun at that child” self-struggle shtick. One is moved to attempt self-surgery with a kitchen knife. The horrors pile up quickly.

I liked a couple of effects — that bugs-crawling-all-over-people and into somebody’s mouth is good, and there’s a demon-throws-her-across-the-room stunt that’s as impressive as any I’ve ever seen.

But Joko Anwar’s script leaves a bit to be desired — twists that seem trite, counter-twists that are even worse, over-explaining things to the point where the forward motion is lost.

And the near-pointless epilogue had me shaking my head.

I’m the first to admit this isn’t my favorite genre. But anybody can tell when a horror movie works. The few chills hand one or two almost jaw-dropping moments of gore delivered in the most predictable ways don’t quite get the job done here.

“The Queen of Black Magic” herself isn’t a letdown, but how she’s dealt with is.

MPA Rating: Unrated, gory as all get out

Cast: Ario Bayu, Hannah Al Rashid, Adhisty Zara, Muzakki Ramdhan, Ade Firman Hakim, Sheila Dara Aisha, Tanta Ginting and Miller Khan

Credits: Directed by Kimo Stamboel, script by Joko Anwar. A Shudder release.

Running time: 1:40

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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