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Satan’s Slaves: Communion has thin walls for thick horrors

Satan's Slaves: Communion (Shudder)

The sequel to Indonesia’s hit horror title emphasizes scares and, from there, conjures a double-edged ride.

If Satan’s Slaves: Communion wants to be a local PSA for better management of high-rises instead of a second wringer for the Suwono family to go through, it can. There’s an elevator in the film’s setting that is home to a horrific banquet of images and sounds. There are happenings inside, outside of, and even underneath it that will get the one in your building more regular inspections and stricter compliance with the “maximum capacity” notice. Per the film, poorly maintained and overloaded lifts won’t just be an eventual Final Destination moment, it’s also how hell gets to be on Earth.

That was no exaggeration either. The damned elevator is the inciting incident of Satan’s Slaves: Communion, the follow-up to Joko Anwar’s successful remake-prequel of 1980’s Pengdabi Setan (that is at the moment a top grosser at the local box office). Three years have passed since her death and the revelation that she is a Satan worshiper, songstress Mawarni Suwono (Ayu Laksmi)—or an entity assuming her form—and her followers are setting their resurgence in motion big time. With “mass death” supposedly a prerequisite, on a day auspicious to them, an elevator full of friends and family will fall.

Of course, this elevator is far from a willy-nilly pick: It’s the one in the same flat where all of the Satan’s Slaves’ survivors—the remaining Suwono members, patriarch Bahri (Bront Palarae), eldest Rini (Tara Basro), middle Toni (Endy Arfian) and second middle Bondi (Nasar Anuz)—have escaped to. No worries if they don’t perish in it, though, for when things go south pocongs, bodies, apparitions, and Satanists will lead them to danger or death anyway. After all that transpired, close calls with wicked things and the abduction of their deaf youngest, Ian (M. Adhiyat), everyone is lost and exhausted. They have become broken enough to strike.

Thing is, once the lift drops, character work in Satan’s Slaves: Communion’s will cease to matter. It comes and goes, the impact of trauma on the older Suwonos (Bahri’s coldness, Rini’s lagging future). It isn’t so consequential, the younger ones’ rediscovery of innocence (Toni falling for the sharp-witted resident Tari (Ratu Felisha), Bondi exercising mischief with friends). But where the investment in people stops, Anwar sees a start to install all sorts of freak-outs. They sure are delicious, thanks to the filmmaker’s known knack for staging and wonderful support in the forms of Darwyn Tse’s gut-knotting makeup, Dinda Amanda’s precise cutting, and Ical Tanjung’s devilishly calm camerawork.

Satan's Slaves: Communion (Shudder)
Satan’s Slaves: Communion (Shudder)

Still, it’s tough to realize that this time around there won’t be a harmonious mix of characters, lore, and scares. Besides the Suwonos, the quite literal setting up for occult magazine writer Budiman (Egi Fedly), also a returning character, is just that—setting up. The great sense of place and time inspired by real issues in Indonesia (sinking lands, turbulent seasonal weather, and, even if never directly mentioned, the Petrus killings) that contribute to how existential disadvantages are the root of all horrors—mostly airless in the end. On its own terms, it also feels less cohesive than its successor as characters most of the time harbor different goals and are separated from one another.

Frankly, it is no crime that Anwar is satisfying the “horror sequel” maxim—and his own creative vision—of having a bigger scope and an increased fun factor, but it does make for a diminished experience. Out of all of the horrors Anwar has directed and written thus far, Satan’s Slaves: Communion has the simplest and most straightforward plotting, for better and otherwise. But assuming you can roll along and don’t mind the lack of lingering sweat, Satan’s Slaves: Communion is still worth at least one tour. With or without the IMAX bells and whistles, which the film had equipped and in turn becoming the first Indonesian film to do so, every sighting of the pocong unnerves—quadruply so when the camera stays stationary. Two particular deaths lean into classic fears. The elevator, again. A couple of tense bits are pre-gamed with humor, but it is thankfully concise or non-intrusive. 

In a sense, it’s right as to why Satan’s Slaves: Communion is driven by scares more than anything else. One might also say lopsided. Upon release, Anwar has said that a third story could be in the works, depending on whether this film is successful. No wonder why many of the constructs here feel partially completed, or open-ended. No wonder why it ends on the note that, should there be a next time, the living must rise to the occasion, or die in fright trying to. On one hand, it’s lamentable that a “bridging entry” in the trilogy misses the mark in places that the earlier minutes (and the first film) have built with promise. On the other hand, there’s no time to lament when the on-screen fear factor is this potent. If a high-rise has an elevator or a garbage chute, that feels funny, consider the lease not signed.

Satan’s Slaves: Communion manifests on Shudder November 4th.

Satan’s Slaves: Communion Trailer

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