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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Review: The Queen of Black Magic

Director: Kimo Stamboel

Screenplay: Joko Anwar

Year: 2021

During the past few months, Shudder has increased its offer of Asian horror, including some Indonesian movies. “Impetigore” and “May the Devil Take You Too” are the most recent Indonesian movies on this platform, which now includes “The Queen of Black Magic” (“Ratu Ilmu Hitam”). However, this new addition doesn’t reach the heights of the previous two. 

A group of orphan kids grows up in an orphanage under the wing of the caretaker. Years later, the group goes back to the orphanage to see the man that raised them while he is on his deathbed. Going back to that place brings back memories of some awful things that happened there, as well as an evil force that was waiting for them. 

By saying that “The Queen of Black Magic”  is not at the same height as its compatriots, I don’t want to insinuate that it is a bad movie because that’s not the case, only that it suffers from some issues that put it behind the others. The problem that most affects its quality is the messy script. 

It is surprising to see that Joko Anwar, who is becoming a synonym of Indonesian horror filmmaking, is the mind behind the script of this movie, as well as from “Impetigore”. This helps explain the similar problems both have on their scripts that seem to be intrinsic from the writer. Both movies suffer from having a disorganized script where the lack of focus makes it difficult for the viewer to get into its dynamic and understand the message it wants to deliver. 

Character development is a part of the issues of the script. Generally, I can summarize the issue, stating that there are too many characters, and none of them feel well developed, even when the cast does an exceptional job in their interpretations. The lack of focus in the ideas extends to the large number of scenes that feel forced into the plot to create moments of horror but are only useful for adding huge plot holes. All the scenes involving a crashed bus are an example of this, which fulfill their purpose of adding some horrific scenes, but that is detrimental to the plot. 

The disorganized ideas in its screenplay is its most significant issue, but the most visible one is the CGI’s shameful quality. As a counterpart, the practical effects used both in the scary and the gory scenes are exquisite, and it is hard to understand how\ they could have been paired with such horrible CGI. Through the practical effects, the movie offers some jump scares and mutilation scenes that are hard to forget. Continuing on the audiovisual field, the background score is another miss, often overly present and misused. 

“The Queen of Black Magic” is the most recent Indonesian horror movie added to the Shudder catalog. Without necessarily being a bad movie, it lands well below what other recent horror movies from the same country had achieved. Its main problem is the lack of organization of the ideas in the script and adding scenes with the sole purpose of adding a scary moment and nothing more. The movie stands out in the use of practical effects for the gore, which is as impressive as it is hard to watch.

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