Signal Horizon

See Beyond

Nightstream 2020 The Queen Of Black Magic Review- Not For Weak Stomachs

In The Queen Of Black Magic, A classic ghost story gets a new school twist with an army of bugs and eye-popping special effects.

Behind the intensely atmospheric and visually arresting Satan’s Slaves and Impetigore, Joko Anwar is back with another shot of gag-inducing horror in The Queen Of Black Magic. Playing as part of Nightstream’s killer lineup, The Queen Of Black Magic was the film I targetted early as a must-watch. I have been a fan of Anwar’s for a while. His brand of horror speaks to me. It haunts me even. Derivative of nothing and singularly recognizable, it is intelligent but cringing—the kind of films that get under your skin and scratch inside your brain.

There’s something about orphanages that breed horror. Perhaps it’s the idea of so many vulnerable souls under one roof or the inevitable tragedy that brought the children there in the first place; they are fertile grounds to explore the landscape of horror. J. A. Bayona did it with The Orphanage, and now Anwar is doing it with The Queen Of Black Magic inspired by the 1981 film of the same name.

Hanif(Ario Bayu) and his family have traveled to his childhood home, an orphanage, to pay respects to the dying man who cared for him. In addition to Hanif, Jefri(Miller Khan), and Anton(Tanta Ginting) and their significant others have joined them. Despite everyone being there to pay respects to the surrogate father that raised them, there is a weird tension, especially among the ladies. A strange uncertainty pervades every interaction as if the past ghosts have felt their return and aren’t happy about it. There are bad omens everywhere, from crashing into a deer on the way to the orphanage to birds that fall out of the sky indoors no less and begin to ooze blood. They should have heeded the warnings because this ghost doesn’t discriminate, and no one is safe.

Around the halfway mark, things go from unsettling to flat out disgusting. I’m talking gag-worthy moments sure to make even the most hardened skin crawl. The Queen Of Black Magic is a grisly movie with a nasty bite. Layered in atmospheric terror, every second drip with sweat, blood, and fear-induced piss. It is a fun watch for those who can stomach the ride. Those with an aversion to insects might want to skip it. Before the reveal is even presented, there is are some nauseating scenes. After the reveal, it is madness. It is the kind of sins of the father story that leaves you with a foul taste in your mouth and a sour stomach.

Intense and often disgusting, it isn’t gory for the sake of gore, however. Like most of Anwar’s work, every hard to watch shot has a purpose and never feels manipulative. He doesn’t scare with jumps or crazed slashers but with crawling bugs and unexpected implements. You have to see one particular scene with a possessed hand and a staple gun to believe. It is easily the most creative horror device I have seen in decades. Idle hands have been done before but never quite like this.

The soundtrack is chilling. Never has a single small beat put you so on edge. This film uses sound to terrify between the endless thud of a head against the wood or the crunch of bones that did not set right. Even if you hide your eyes behind your fingers, you can’t escape the insectile wriggling of thousands of millipedes or the choking sounds of bug vomit.

The film teems with ruthless set pieces that creep up on you. Colorful busses hide a carnival of missing eyes and seeping head wounds while warm-toned rooms belie the clinical coldness of past wrongs. This film builds layer by disgusting layer until the climax, which showcases a host of effects so horrific it’s best not to spoil them. Suffice it to say; if you have trypophobia, you will need to close your eyes.

Everything about The Queen Of Black Magic is memorable. From the performances to the scenery, to the parable behind the ghost story, it’s a film you won’t forget. In the end, ghosts are only as scary as the story behind them. This is one of the best. It’s playing as part of the digital content of Nightstream right now and will be released on Shudder soon.