If you saw Joko Anwar’s 2017 Satan’s Slaves—and if you didn’t, get thee to Shudder ASAP—you know there were some lingering questions at the end, as well as a lot more room to explore all those freaky occult themes. Sequel Satan’s Slaves: Communion arrives on Shudder this week, and it levels up on the first film’s horrors while supplying so much new nightmare fodder.
The main story picks up three years after Satan’s Slaves, so it’s 1984 now. After escaping the wrath of the Satanic cult their late mother had secretly joined—a decision that brought her musical stardom and longed-for fertility, but at an agonizing cost—the Suwono family from the first film has held firm to their decision that apartment living is somehow safer than living in a rural village. You can see the logic in that (more neighbors, fewer wells infested with ghouls), but their current situation hardly feels like an upgrade. The high-rise is crowded with tenants, but it’s in an oddly isolated location in the middle of a field, and the whole place is dark, damp, and falling apart, with a particularly rickety elevator situation. Crammed into a one-bedroom flat are twentysomething Rini (Tara Basro), who’s rethinking her decision to quit college; older teen Toni (Endy Arfian), who pines for his pretty older neighbor (Ratu Felisha); sarcastic younger teen Bondi (Nasar Anuz); and their father (Bront Palarae), who has become withdrawn and surly when he’s not disappearing to a mysterious job that nobody can quite explain. Still MIA: youngest kid Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat), who was whisked away by the cult at the end of the first film, maybe because he was actually the son of Satan?
Even before we get into the main plot, we learn that the Suwono family’s unfinished business is tied into so much more than one woman’s tragic ambitions. Anwar wisely brings back another key character from the first film: Budiman (Egi Fedly), the occult expert and journalist who, as we learn, has a lot more knowledge about this particular situation than we realized, dating back nearly 30 years. The film’s opening scene is a flashback in which we witness his first exposure to the supernatural, and through him and other media sources sprinkled throughout the film we become aware of an apocalyptic vibe that’s just starting to seep into this world. As a huge storm prepares to roll in over Jakarta, there’s talk of government unrest, as well as worrisome reports about a sniper who has killed hundreds of people in recent years. There’s also, to name another film that takes place in a sinister apartment building, a Rosemary’s Baby-like sense that a diabolical conspiracy may be nudging the characters toward their doom.
The dangerous storm, of course, is a tried and true story device that Anwar uses to great effect here, trapping the Suwonos and their few allies inside the flooded high-rise. (This is the first Indonesian film shot using IMAX technology, which makes it even more of a shame it’s only getting a small-screen release in the U.S., but the cinematography is still fantastic.) Naturally, the power also goes out—and making matters even worse, an earlier tragedy in the building means that several of the apartments are occupied by corpses, left stranded until the rain lets up and they can be fetched for burial. “We never talk about what happened to us,” Bondi points out early in the film when the subject of their mother comes up, and Rini, who’s spent too much of her life desperately trying to hold her family together, is quick to answer, “That’s all in the past, it won’t possibly happen again.” She’s wrong, of course, and Satan’s Slaves: Communion does an outstanding job ratcheting up dread-filled tension and delivering on some truly disturbing frights.
The religious themes that so permeated Satan’s Slaves are less prominent here, but it’s still notable to see a movie in which the Muslim faith is the go-to tool against evil spirits; it’s something Western audiences wouldn’t even notice if Christians and crosses were holding the front line (think the Warrens in The Conjuring movies, for instance, or the priests in The Exorcist), but it stands out here just because we rarely get to see it. Anwar has a nifty visual homage to the first film in a prayer scene, delivering a similar underlying message that faith won’t save you if you grab ahold of religion solely as a way to get ghosts out of your face.
Other nods to the first film include mysteries contained within photos, with a series of progressive snapshots that call to mind Bondi’s ghoul-revealing View-Master reel, and the melancholy crooning of Mawarni Suwono (Ayu Laksmi), whose recordings once brought her family a comfortable life—but are now something they wish they’d never heard in the first place. The last act of Satan’s Slaves: Communion suggests that Anwar may have more chapters left to tell in this story; if that’s the case, and we certainly hope it is, we’ll be following him down whatever gruesome pitch-black path he lays next.
Satan’s Slaves: Communion hits Shudder on November 4; Satan’s Slaves is now streaming on Shudder.
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