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Impetigore (2019)

Ghouls' new series, For the Culture, looks to explore the horrors certain communities experience. We're starting with the indigenous zombie film that has us SHOOK, Blood Quantum. A film whose name sends us on a journey through history and a film that twists our stomachs (but in a good way).

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The History of Violence Against Women in Indonesia & the Movements Fighting Back

Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

There is a theme of violence against women in the film Impetigore, perpetuated by men in the film that is actually a pressing issue in Indonesia. What we see on screen very early on is the dangers for a woman at night, alone in a toll booth, with the threat of violence by a strange man. Later we see a village with SO MANY pregnant women, that a child is buried every few days. In an article from Horror Obsessive, Women’s Pain and Wayang in Impetigore, we get an overview of the film’s portrayal that links back to societal issues in Indonesia. The article states “Overall, the violence against, the rage of, and lack of social mobility for women and children depicted in Impetigore shadows the real-life struggle for women’s rights in Indonesia. The prolific and resilient feminist movement of Indonesia is both spurred and challenged by oppressive traditionalism. In Indonesia, teenaged girls are leading a movement to end child marriage, and the government which is influenced by fundamentalist religious groups rejects feminist legislation and is complicit in systemic violence against women.” Impetigore is saying a lot in this film that may not be obvious to viewers without context.

There are many movements taking place in Indonesia calling for an end to child marriage, and an end to systemic violence against women. The violence in child marriage is blatant, as it takes children and forces them to be wives and mothers. It forces children to raise children, and disenfranchises women from education and independence. In addition to child marriage, “Violence against women comes in many forms, including physical abuse, psychological violence and sexual violence. The perpetrators, aside from individuals, can also be governmental or non-governmental institutions – cultural, religious and educational.”

There is a theme throughout human cultures where systemic violence and oppression against a group is perpetuated by societal complicity with said violence or oppression. People not speaking out against something horrific because it has always been that way, is explained away by those in power, or they are scared of falling victim to it themselves if they were to stand up and fight it. It ultimately comes down to a survival instinct. In indonesia, there are movements such as the Women’s Anti-Violence Movement (Gerak Perempuan) which is an alliance of non-government organizations and civil society groups. In an article on the Jakartaglobe, Violence Against Women in Indonesia is Systemic and the Government is Not Doing Enough to Unravel It, this violence and oppression is called out as a systemic issue.

In fact, in an annual report conducted by the National Commision for Women, the noted a 14% increase in cases of violence against women in 2019, with a shocking total of 406,178 cases of violence. The article quotes Mutiara Ika, who is the coordinator of women’s group Perempuan Mahardika said “Violence against women is systemic because it occurs repeatedly in a neverending circle. The government has been neglecting the marginalization and repression of women," This was said at the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation headquarters.

Where this film has been acclaimed for shifting the lense of folk horror from Scandinavian and European Folk horrors, that often occur in broad daylight, Impetigore shifts a non-white lense, and shows this violence and horror at all times, day and night. The film Impetigore is a big deal for the folk-horror sub genre. In an article by Screenrant, How Impetigore Escapes Midsommar’s Folk Horror Expectations, we get an overview of exactly how meaningful and redefining Impetigore is. However, it all links back to what is happening in Indonesia, and that the horror at all times angle is telling. As the director of Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, Asfinawati claimed “Violence against women is a very complex issue because women experience it not only in public but also inside the home. It’s systemic violence because it happens mutiple times in all sectors and spaces.”

The article goes on to outline the injustices in the patriarchal job market, and government bills aimed at domesticating women even further. I recommend giving it a read. There’s a long history of violence and oppression against women in Indonesia and across the globe. This film was saying a lot.

Media from this week's episode:

Impetigore (2019) Director: Joko Anwar

Summary by IMDB: Maya with her best friend, Dini, tries to survive in a city without a family. She realized that she might inherit a property from her rich family. Maya returns to the village with Dini and unaware of the danger that was waiting for her.

Impetigore: Women's Pain & Inescapable Curses

Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

A film about generational or inherited prejudice, and compounded, inescapable curses, trying to repair the past, the traumas only result in more horror and grief. Can we ever truly escape the trauma of our ancestors? Can we ever go home again?

This film follows Maya and her friend Dimi, both toll-booth workers, after Maya is notified that she is due to inherit a house in a forgotten and remote village. From the beginning, Maya is tormented. We have a scene where a stranger has been driving by and staring at her. He is a sinister man that would make anyone uncomfortable but for a young woman, alone in the dark in her small toll booth, it is a horror that kicks off the film in a very real and visceral way. When he pulls over, she is panicking and as a female-viewer, I am panicking with her. Her frantic attempts to close the window and ultimately run is true terror. At the heart of this film, is the struggles of these women. Each one is made victim to the misogynistic and patriarchal society that treats their bodies as vessels.

Maya, orphaned and outcast as a young person, returns to her roots and is met by a lost-in-time village that is moody, dark, depressed and menacing. Her inherited home is wrapped in vines and other nature. And yet, it is larger than any home she’s ever been in. No one resides there because the fear of curse is strong enough to keep the villagers away in their smaller homes.

The film is beautifully shot, weaving nature, darkness and the grunge of this small village into every scene. Disaturated and claustrophobic, we explore the landscape and are confronted by how isolated it is. People refuse to visit or drive them there unless paid an incredible sum. This is a village alienated from the rest of civilization, alone in it’s own torment and pain.

A good man is hard to find. In this film, it is impossible. This toxic patriarchal society is ultimately destroyed by the men in power and in the village. Both of Maya’s supposed fathers are murderers. Though her “father” didn’t murder the people as mentioned in the tale, he did kill three young girls for the Devil. Her actual father did murder all those people in the tale and all those babies (ableist much). The village men allow their children to be killed and we see some of them attempt to rape Ratih because her husband is away (and he is who they respect, not her). Even Ratih’s husband tried to kill Maya. Yes, Nyi started the curse spiral but why? Because her son was involved with another woman. Her son, who she bore after being raped by the original puppet master. Not to give her any excuses. Everyone is guilty. But I can understand what led them to this. Nyi wanted so badly to undo the curse, she truly believed this was how to do it and she had her own pains to deal with. Every time a baby was born without skin, she felt it. She grew desperate and eventually, the grief corrupted her further and perhaps that is only another element of the curse itself.

An article on Horror Obsessive titled, Women’s Pain and Wayang in Impetigore by Rebecca Saunders, which Kat referenced earlier, says, Overall, the horror of Impetigore is rooted in the victimization of women and children. In fact, depictions of violence against children in this film, while not fetishized or overdone, are almost intolerable. There is not a single sympathetic male character to be found in the city or in the village, and even male characters who are marginally sympathetic are eventually traitorous. Dini’s cruel fate is the earliest example of brutal female victimization in the film. The mystery of the frightful ghost children, once revealed, exemplifies the treacherous exploitation of children, and the multitude of pregnant women whose babies are not allowed to live intensifies the focus on this type of victimization.

What I found the most interesting in this film was the justification in the horror. These are people plagued with years of pain from the plague of dead and imperfect children. Imagine being a woman in such a place, no contraceptives, you marry someone else in the village who’ve you’ve always known (and honestly from our experience with any of the men on screen, is most likely a gross human), and you become pregnant. For nine months, you are aware of the futility of the situation. It is heartbreaking. You cannot allow yourself to hope, to love the child within you. The gloom we see in the environment has seeped into the skin of every woman in that village. There is immense grief that turns these villagers into the monstrous mob that pursues Maya. And I can’t blame them. In the very end, we see that the moment you let your guard down and let joy in, it only makes the pain that much heavier. We are left with a shrieking, grieving and traumatized woman who had the audacity to be happy, to hope. That is the true horror of the curses, the inability to ever escape, to hope or love again.

In the Spool, an article titled Impetigore Drags You Through the Curse of Country Life by Clint Worthington says, “Anwar’s latest is a tragic supernatural drama about people caught on the raw end of a deal someone else made for them. The villagers are frightening, and in the thrall of murderous forces (When Maya asks one sympathetic villager why they follow Biyu’s character, her response is: “Who else do we have to look up to here?”), but they’re driven by desperation to lift a curse that has claimed their children for years. Obviously, we root for our heroine to lift the curse without having to lose her life, but the savagery of the townsfolk is borne of genuine, decades-long pain they’re willing to stamp out by any means necessary.” In the end, they are led astray by the very people in power, their own loved ones.

Ratih, a woman with “unreasonable” hope explains to Maya that she is helping because her mother, who is a spiritual woman, told her that when you remove one curse, it will be replaced with a worse one. The curses and struggles of these people are only compounded, spiraling out of control when confronted or addressed. Ultimately, the only answer is to leave. Even as Maya fights to undo the curse, which she learns is not her not-father’s but is actually a reaction to her (complicated ancestry reveal) grandmother’s original curse, it is pointless as we see with the final moments in the film. You cannot break away from this curse, it will evolve and never let you go.


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