Review: 'The Queen Of Black Magic' a Royal Flush of Horror Tropes

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday January 28, 2021

'The Queen Of Black Magic'
'The Queen Of Black Magic'  

Multi-legged creepy-crawlies swarm; possessed innocents wield knives, rifles, and staple guns; and the gore spouts, in director Kimo Stamboel's skillfully trope-filled supernatural revenge chiller "The Queen of Black Magic."

When childhood friends Hanif (Ario Bayu), Anton (Tanta Ginting), and Jefri (Miller Khan) converge on the orphanage where they grew up, it's an unhappy reunion from the very start; Mr. Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru), the orphanage's director, is on his death bed. All three men have brought their wives, and their marital situations, along with them. Things are fine for Hanif, who is happily hitched to Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid). They are blessed with three spirited children, Sandi (Ari Irham), Dina (Zara JKT48), and Haqi (Muzakki Ramdhan).

But life is less blissful for the other couples. Jefri's wife, Lina (Salvita Decorte), is obsessed with body image issues, convinced that she needs to shed weight; Anton's new bride, Eva (Imelda Therinne), is a hypochondriac, and the two of them snipe at one another incessantly. (Families find themselves in peril: Check.)

Another couple, Maman (Ade Firman Hakim) and Siti (Sheila Dara Aisha), who grew up at the orphanage and now manage the place, are the group's hosts. They're poor, but kindly - what's more, they're happy together, despite the strange things that take place in the huge building. Cue insinuations about the creepy building's checkered past: The place used to be a mental asylum. (Horror trope Number Two: Check.)

Worse, when Hanif and the others were children, several girls perished in a fire, after which another - Murni - vanished in the woods, presumably murdered by Mrs. Mirah, an employee who, we're told, sacrificed the fire victims in a black magic ritual. Mrs. Murni, captured by the youthful Hanif and his friends, was locked in a room for her misdeeds, and promptly battered herself to death, bashing her own brains out against the door. (Supernatural vengeance trope: Check.)

Only a couple of the current residents of the orphanage are on hand when the guests arrive, one of them being Hasbi (Giulio Parengkuan), a handsome teenager who catches Dina's eye. (Horny teenagers, a staple borrowed from the slasher genre: Check.)

But wait; there's another popular horror staple at play, a creepy videotape that documents more than the innocent doings of Hanif and the others as youthful residents of the orphanage. The videotape seems to summon a terrifying spirit. (Hallo, "Ringu!")

With the framework in place, Stamboel and writer Joko Anwar are ready to let loose, and they do; millipedes and beetles, always a good shortcut to body horror territory, rampage through this movie, while mesmerized victims perform acts of self-mutilation and terrorized survivors, attempting to flee, find themselves caught in an enchanted, remote locale in which all roads lead right back to scene of the haunting. That's when a major twist throws everything into a whole new light...

Horror fans won't find anything particularly new or surprising here, but the film's skillfully woven threads of insecurity, trauma, rage, and guilt make for a constantly entertaining run time. The jump scares are kept to a minimum (and are more effective for it), and the filmmakers have dreamed up some truly disturbing scenarios into which to thrust their large assortment of characters.

The array of grisly tropes used here, while well-worn, are cleverly repurposed into a kind of shorthand, proving to be signposts on the way to new revelations rather than narrative destinations in and of themselves. The end result feels both familiar and fresh, and it's hard to miss an undercurrent of winking fun beneath the atmospherics, the visual quotes referencing earlier horror hits, and the gleefully-wrought carnage.

With the K-horror and J-horror subgenres having been so well established, could I-Horror be the next new thing?

"The Queen of Black Magic" streams exclusively at Shudder starting Jan. 28.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.