Finding unique horror and genre voices has always been an interesting progression of Fantastic Fest. The same can be said of Shudder who is distributing “Queen Of Black Magic”, one of the featured films in the virtual edition of FF being held this year. “Queen” continues the progression of filmmakers like Dain Said and Joko Anwar over the past couple years including “Impetigore” (directed by Anwar) that played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (and always acquired by Shudder). This new entry, like that previous one, is heavily based in Indonesian lore but tries to balance less into the notion of blood family as that one did, but more one of consequence. Unlike “Impetigore” which buried itself inside the jungles with lurid fire imagery based in the requisite mythology, “Queen” moves more into the realm of Black Magic corrugated around a house, in this case an orphanage where bad things happened. The build up is nicely accomplished building to a fever pitch that is not for the squeamish. Still the antagonist’s reasoning is sound and her eventual reckoning against those who would do her harm is direct and personified. Unlike a movie say like “Hostel”, “Queen” relies on a variation on a house of horrors motif which would be an interesting parallel to “The Shining” if those demons were more murderous instead of psychological. That said, Anwar and director Kimo Stamboel know the themes they are running for and bring out the way each character is thinking without getting too bogged down in plot mechanics or over-characterization. The film moves but also balances out in its texture in almost a parable type progression. One scene has a girl raised at the orphanage telling the son of one of the guests about the legend of a lady who died in the house. It uses the texture and irony of old ghost stories while still understanding that despite having all the technology, all that can be taken away to silence. The particular use of a video player segment is exceptionally done while giving harks out to everything from “Poltergeist” to “The Ring”. Again the Indonesian renaissance of horror continues to show that these filmmakers are not afraid to take risks but also integrate essences of local mythology without losing track of its audience, whether Western or Eastern.
By Tim Wassberg