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Joko Anwar spills the beans on ‘Pengabdi Setan’

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, October 11, 2017 | 03:52 pm

In the past few weeks, horror film Pengabdi Setan (Satan’s Slave) has been one of the most talked about topics across the country, thanks to plenty of jump scares and a shocking plot twist.

In the first week of its release, the reboot of the 1980s horror classic successfully attracted 1 million viewers, while garnering 13 nominations out of 22 categories at the annual Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) 2017 — making it one of the most nominated films at the event.

Director Joko Anwar sat down with The Jakarta Post on Monday to give us exclusive, behind-the-scenes insights into the horror blockbuster, including the fact that it contains at least seven Easter eggs.

Anyone who has watched the original Pengabdi Setan or his other films might notice these hidden messages, he said.

Q: What made you decide to make a reboot of Pengabdi Setan?

A: Pengabdi Setan is my favorite childhood movie. I am a movie buff. [Growing up], I watched a lot of movies in the theater. However, I could not forget the experience of watching Pengabdi Setan, even as I got older.

I love horror movies, but I never get a similar experience with local [horror] movies. I chose to remake Pengabdi Setan with the hopes of giving viewers a similar experience.

We heard that you needed 10 years to convince Rapi Films to remake the movie. Why did it take so long and how did you finally convince the production house?

Since I started making movies, I had been wanting to remake Pengabdi Setan. In 2007, I frequently encountered [production house executives] at various events. I asked Sunil Samtani – Rapi Films executive producer – to remake the film, but he did not respond. Perhaps, they did not have a plan to remake [an old movie] or did not trust me [to do it] as I [was known] for creating drama or art house films.

When my friends worked with Rapi Films, I asked them to tell Rapi Films to remake Pengabdi Setan. The same thing happened when I spoke with the media. I created two short films to show them how serious I was.

Once I heard that [Rapi Films] decided to remake Pengabdi Setan with someone else, I was very heartbroken. However, Gope T. Samtani – Rapi Films co-founder – read in a newspaper that I was interested in making Pengabdi Setan. He asked Sunil to find out why I had been so ‘persistent.’ I met them, told my story and shared my concept.

Read also: Upcoming Indonesian horror films you should not miss

Film director Joko Anwar poses during an interview with The Jakarta Post on Oct. 9, 2017.Film director Joko Anwar poses during an interview with The Jakarta Post on Oct. 9, 2017. (JP/Jessicha Valentina)

Did you experience any difficulties casting the movie?

Not really, [but] it took a while to find the actors. Thirty to 50 actors auditioned for each character. But I finally found the perfect [actors]. After I found all of them, I tried to turn them into a family through various activities, such as [family outings], requiring them to go to malls and participate in family dinners.  

Did you expect the movie to receive such a positive feedback?

No. Usually, I never think about numbers and just want to make the best of it.

However, Pengabdi Setan was special because [the original film] has a lot of fans and I did not want to disappoint them. At the same time, fans of horror films in Indonesia are slightly jaded; they do not trust local horror flicks. I was responsible for making fans of [the original version] like the new movie and to also improve the benchmark for [local] horror films.

Pengabdi Setan received 13 nominations at the 2017 FFI. What was your reaction when hearing the news?

We just laughed as we did not expect it. Horror films usually never get nominated for important categories.

I was surprised. [The nominations] proved that our mission to bring horror films to a whole new level was a success. What more can you ask for? Thank God, our hard work [paid off]. It took 18 days to shoot the film and we spent 15 days in the house. We were rushing as the budget was not that high. But the crew was excited to make the movie; many of them even stayed in the house. It was very effective.

What was the most challenging part of making the film?

Location. The movie is set in the 1980s and I could not find [a suitable] location in Jakarta.

After two months of searching, we discovered the house. Although it looked decent from the outside, the inside was terrible and very creepy! I recently found a photo of an unidentified person [inside the house]. I asked my crew if that was someone wearing a costume, but they said ‘no.’

[Joko showed The Post this photo of the unidentified ‘character’ captured on camera.]

We looked around for another month, but failed to find another location. Hence, we returned to the house. My crew then renovated the house in 10 days.

Read also: A slew of horror films to terrorize you in Kineforum this October

Promotions have recently appeared offering a tour of the house. Are they a part of Pengabdi Setan?

No, we are not connected.

Are you planning to create a sequel?

This movie is a prequel to the original movie; this is the first chapter. There will be a Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 is the original Pengabdi Setan.

All of my films are set in one ‘universe.’

What is an ideal film according to Joko Anwar?

There is no ideal film, which makes films even more valuable.

A movie succeeds when the filmmakers have a purpose. If a movie was created to attract viewers and then is able sustain viewers, then it counts as an achievement. If a movie was created to break boundaries, such as art house films, it succeeds by gaining acknowledgement from the targeted audience. (kes)

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