The Queen of Black Magic is Kimo Stamboel’s second solo outing as director after making a number of extremely well regarded horror and action features with Timo Tjahjanto, and is a loose remake of a 1981 Indonesian splatterfest with the same title. But do not let the fact that this is a remake, or that it covers a number of well worn plot points and horror tropes, lead you to believe that this is not worth your time. This is a brutal ride well worth taking for any horror fan that likes to test their nerves, and their stomach.
The story follows a group of families returning to the orphanage where the adult men of the families grew up. They are returning because the old man who ran the orphanage when they were children and who raised them is on his deathbed, and the men would like to properly say goodbye. The orphanage is now run by a couple who were orphans with those who are returning, but never left the orphanage themselves.
Soon after arriving, one of the visiting children is treated to a scary story about a door that’s been locked for twenty years, a demon kidnapping a child, and a woman killing herself by slamming her head into the locked door until her skull cracked open. It’s not clear at first whether this story has any basis in fact, or is simply an older kid taunting a younger kid with a chilling tale. But as the film goes on, it becomes clear that at least some of the tale is all too real, and we hear variations on the same story that reveal why horror has been unleashed on these families.
The horror sequences here hit a wide variety of styles, from atmospherically built up J-horror jump scares reminiscent of Ringu, to graphic self-mutilation and a lot of things involving bugs, oh my god there are so many bugs. What makes these disparate styles all work is the way that Stamboel sets up a playground of horror, and is then free to bring an all out assault on the audience’s senses of bodily autonomy, sanity, and again, fear of creepy crawlies. Because the first half hour of the film introduces us to the families, the orphanage, and the story that we will hear throughout the film, the remainder doesn’t need to cover much plot. This allows the majority of the film to play with a variety of horror film traditions and styles to create a number of disturbing sequences that are hard to get out of your brain.
What makes the film so strong though isn’t its fantastic scares, but how quickly and seamlessly it moves between these sequences, giving the audience little to no breathing room. The film is truly relentless. Even as it becomes a bit too twist heavy in its final third, the horrors are so intense and they come so fast, that any complaints about the plot are subsumed by how effective the horror is.
The Queen of Black Magic lands among a class of horror films that certainly have their flaws, but are so adept at delivering genre thrills that the flaws become almost entirely irrelevant. This is easily one of the best horror films of the year, and necessary viewing for genre fans.
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The Queen of Black Magic uses familiar tropes to bring audiences a relentlessly brutal horror film.
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