Review: SATAN'S SLAVES: COMMUNION, The Silver Lining Is...
Jakarta, Indonesia. 1985.
Years after the terrible events of the first film, we catch up with the remaining members of the Suwono family. Rini, her younger siblings, Toni and Bondi, and their Father, Bahri, now live in an apartment building built on the outskirts of town. They share a cramped one-bedroom apartment in what is essentially government housing.
Rini is set on leaving and going to a university in another city. Toni pines for the new girl Tani, who recently moved into the building. Bondi hangs out with his friends around the building, digging up trouble. And dad leaves for work every day but his children don't know what he does; he locks his briefcase in an armoire as soon as he returns home each day.
A tragic accident at the building leaves many of the residents dead. Before the victims can be laid to rest, a massive storm rolls into the area and floods the valley where the building was built, cutting everyone off from the outside world. The Suwono family cannot leave what has essentially become a giant tomb and dark secrets are coming to the surface.
Satan’s Slaves: Communion is Joko Anwar’s sequel to his 2017 remake-prequel of the original Satan’s Slaves film from 1980. Are they required viewing before sitting down and watching this new film? Kind of? It’s great if you could at least go back to the first Anwar film if you haven’t seen it already, as it is a lauded and appreciated horror film in its own right. Themes and story details from the first film will come back in the sequel. Der, it’s a sequel.
This sequel is set against the backdrop of the final year of the Petrus killings, the sniper attacks mentioned in television broadcasts throughout the film. They’re not called by name in the film, we’re just a bit of a nut for small details like this and did the work for you. So, off the hop you have a historical event that Indonesian audiences automatically know about. It would be like setting an American horror film during the three week period in 2002 where the D.C. snipers were indiscriminately killing random victims. Except Petrus was for four years. Woah.
Why mention this at all? Well, it is a detail in the film that Anwar wants to use for this story, to explore further, and it is important to point out who the sequel’s intended viewer is, where the success of this film mattered most, with the local audiences. This is an Indonesian horror film made for Indonesian people and if it weren’t for Anwar’s renowned status in the international horror community, a film like Communion may not have had global attention such as ours. Such as it is, there is a reason why Anwar has garnered such admiration from us over the years, but context will be overall useful in its own way.
Because now we have to get to the task at hand, talking about Communion.
Running time should never be something to hold you back from watching a film. However, and unfortunately, Communion is long. It's too long because, really, nothing happens for much of its length. At a nearly two-hour run time, three quarters of it is setting up a grande finale. There is a smattering of haunting moments before the climax that set up those dark secrets mentioned earlier.
There are effective moments, we’re sure, to some viewers. The set up for the tragic event that kills a handful of the residents in the building is top-shelf stuff, really the pièce de résistance of the entire film, we feel. There are also early jump moments that prime the audience for the massive climax of the film. But largely there is just a lot of walking around dark hallways with shitty flashlights and matches, running into things that meekly go ‘bump’ in the night. We simply didn’t find Communion that scary of an experience, bereft of moments that would cause us pause, catch a breath and push on, fearing what would come next. It never came for us.
Also, the explanation of why this is all happening to the Suwono family comes right at the very end, from a bookend character of all people, and that's super frustrating, spending all that time just to be told to "tune in next week". Oh. Yeah. Communion is not going to be the end of this story.
Where did we find joy in the experience, then? In the set-ups. We still found some joy in watching Anwar set up the scary moments. With tight focuses and sweeping camera moves, you just know what he is doing in those moments. The camera is going to swing to the left or right and there’s going to be a ghoul there, right at your ear whispering death and eternal suffering. Foreshadowing also sets up some cool moments later on as well. Nothing without purpose.
Watching Communion reminded us of the different experiences we had when watching the first original Japanese Ju-on film and its sequel. The first one scared us out of our minds. Still cannot watch parts of it to this day. When we were watching the second one, it was quite the opposite. We were giggling with glee as each death was... executed... on screen. Same story and world, two very different experiences. This is where we found ourselves with Communion, appreciating the set up of each scary moment. We weren’t scared, but we were happy.
Is this a problem? It depends. How personal do you want to take it? It'd be easy to be offended by it, jump online and vent your frustrations, give it a single skull and leave a snide remark. My shoot from the hip reaction was that Communion is a frustratingly long and largely unscary horror film catering to its local audience and box office, banking on success to carry the story on further than it probably needed to be. We chose to accentuate the positive while addressing Communion’s overall shortcomings, of which we feel there are some. This was a different viewing experience than we anticipated.
The silver lining to all of this is that good business results in more business and Communion did gangbusters at the box office back home in Indonesia. After having a quick discussion with Anwar, we now know that they always had big plans for Satan's Slaves. Anwar told us that Satan’s Slaves is a planned universe and the story itself is big. There was always hope from them that they would get to tell more stories from this world. There's money to be made, both Satan’s Slaves movies made a lot, and we now have, at least, a third movie to look forward to.
Satan's Slaves: Communion starts streaming on Shudder on Friday, November 4, 2022.
Satan's Slaves: Communion
- Joko Anwar
- Joko Anwar
- Tara Basro
- Endy Arfian
- Nasar Annuz