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Joko Anwar, the Conjurverse, and a Match Made in Hell

Indonesia’s placement in modern-era regional horror rankings continues to surge upwards with seemingly unstoppable momentum. Filmmakers such as Joko Anwar, Timo Tjahjanto, and Kimo Stamboel are not-so-quietly invigorating horror with representation in the form of cultural authority that celebrates voices across borders and oceans. The universality of films like Satan’s Slaves and May the Devil Take You and The Queen of Black Magic is simple—fear—and yet none sacrifice their pulsating commemoration and condemnation of unique social hardships significant to the Indonesian population. Paste’s Isaac Feldberg already detailed an introduction into Indonesian horror for those in need of a quickie education, because what follows is nothing but appreciation and projections.

Specifically? My kingdom for an entry into James Wan’s “Conjurverse” that travels abroad, lends itself to platforming another locale’s boogie-woogie, and is directed by the record-breaking Indonesian answer to Mr. Wan, the aforementioned Joko Anwar.

It’s not an unheard of experiment, albeit rarely utilized. For example: did you know there’s a Japanese Paranormal Activity spinoff titled Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night? Granted, this diversion is hardly canon outside Japan, given how multiple stateside sequels negate Toby’s overseas adventure when he passes from Katie to Haruka Yamano after a San Diego car accident (just go with it). That said, I adore how Toshikazu Nagae brings Japanese horror influences to Oren Peli’s found footage cinematography, as the unification of franchise approaches and foreign originality become one entity. I’m shocked this hasn’t been attempted more often (except when you think about international rights tie-ups).

Maybe there’s a world where a scrappy independent studio like Warner Brothers could swing such a deal?

I direct attention toward Anwar because my first instinctual comparison after watching Satan’s Slaves recalled the screech-yourself-silly shadowplay talents of James Wan. Where many filmmakers have attempted to replicate Wan’s ease of housebound shrieks since The Conjuring—including Conjurverse director Michael Chaves with The Curse of la Llorona—Anwar’s abilities are brotherly, never far cries or feeble replication. Whether a hallway portrait frightens two quivering kiddos as The Nun’s painting once came to life, or how Anwar compliments Wan’s ability to scare audiences not with what’s hidden but something in plain view. Confidence is critical in horror filmmaking. I’m not sure there are two more boastful contemporary horror filmmakers as relentlessly unwavering as Wan or Anwar—hence why these two sharing the same universe would play gangbusters.

In my mind, the Conjurverse could benefit from stepping away from storied paranormal cases. It’s true Ed and Lorraine’s artifact room is a museum of damned artifacts from the actual Warrens’ investigative career—but imagine a collaborative aside where the Warrens remember back on an Indonesian artifact and its maleficent beginnings, providing a seat at the Conjurverse’s table for someone like Anwar? Sequels and spinoffs have already provided variations and flavors to WB’s blockbuster series—The Nun is campy Hammer horror vibes in a castle, Annabelle Comes Home a Halloween Horror Nights maze on the screen—yet there’s still a familiar undercurrent.

Let’s revisit The Curse of La Llorona because the Conjurverse did already attempt to inject Latin American lore into its expanded universe. Chaves’s supernatural ghost story explores “La Llorona,” a.k.a. “The Weeping Woman,” as its titular foe—but doesn’t feel imbued by multicultural spirits. Maybe that’s because the film was initially titled The Children? The fabled waterfront wailer finds herself shoehorned into a rather basic horror blueprint. It’s a problem with backend representation like The Curse Of La Llorona and other stateside representations of monsters or myths with rich history elsewhere, spotlighting why it’s so important to hear these stories told in a native tongue. The Curse Of La Llorona is an unfortunate example—in my opinion—of nightmare appropriation versus something like Guatemala’s La Llorona, which goes even further to marry unforgivable political trauma with a La Llorona that demographic audiences remembered fearing as a whispered warning.

If you look at Satan’s Slaves followed by Impetigore, I’m not sure there’s a more suitable choice to inject some international wilds into the Conjurverse as it stands. Satan’s Slaves is Indonesia’s The Conjuring, and Impetigore lurks around village overgrowth while recalling puppet pageantry that becomes this fantastical embrace of old-world traditions. Ancestors and stories told by elders empower Anwar, yet the filmmaker never loses that captivating through line of horror being the ultimate language. As I’ve learned—through genre cinema—about political outrage and atrocities against oppressed minorities even in our “great” country, so should audiences learn to accept subtitles and protagonists who look different. An olive branch that injects fear toxin and brings with it ghouls North American watchers haven’t even scrambled away from during slumber—Anwar could bridge an unaccustomed gap.

Is this a pipe dream with a lower probability than finding Pennywise in a Los Angeles sewer drain? Probably. What’s the harm in stirring suggestive minds? Horror fans crave the new, the freakish, and the next prominent iconic figure. The Conjurverse has the platform acclaim and built-in audience; why not permit filmmakers like Joko Anwar their chance to summon Indonesian villains ready to rampage through audiences without any prior awareness? Viewers are savvier these days, and shallow trickery like The Curse Of La Llorona might score box office success, but reaction chatter matters. If you want to promote heavy-hellish-hitters like La Llorona from another league, leave it to those who’ve lived under their reigns of terror. I’d pay tenfold over the asking price to see Joko Anwar’s name associated with a classified, fictional-or-not totem in the Conjurverse’s model of Ed and Lorraine Warrens’ occult collection of possessed antiquities. Instead of gazing inward, maybe franchises should start weighing outward benefits when thinking of their next installation?

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Written By

Matt is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Nerdist, Fangoria, Collider, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, Atom Insider, Flickering Myth, SYFY, and Fandom. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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