Filmmaker Joko Anwar stayed true to his vision for his Indonesian horror film “Impetigore” — so much so that when he found the perfect village to film in, the lack of infrastructure — yes, even a running toilet — didn’t stop them. Instead, they just built what they needed, and left it for the villagers to enjoy.
“We spent three months looking for a village that can resemble the village in the script,” Anwar told TheWrap during the screening of his film for TheWrap’s Screening Series. “We met someone who hiked in the forest, and he said he stumbled upon this village cut off from the modern world. The village was formed in 1941, made for workers who work in the plantation for the Dutch colonialists, and since then, they’ve lived there…. We went there, it matched perfectly with the description for the script. We had to make a path so our cars and equipment could get to the village.”
But that’s not the only thing the crew had to build.
“We didn’t have toilets or bathrooms over there, so we had to build proper toilets that after we finished shooting, they were used by locals,” he added. “The big house that we built for the main set, we left it intact after we shot and supplied books and then the house was used until now as a library for the locals.”
What’s most shocking, and admirable, perhaps, is the fact they filmed and erected the buildings and infrastructure for less than $1 million.
“Impetigore,” written and directed by Anwar, stars Tara Basro, Marissa Anita, Christine Hakim, Asmara Abigail, and Ario Bayu. It follows Maya and Dini, who go to a remote village Maya believes she’s from to find her childhood home so she can sell it for money. There, they encounter villagers who seem cold, suspicious, and dangerous.
While shooting “Impetigore” was “probably the most adventurous time” of his life, it didn’t come easy, Anwar said. Not only did it take 10 years for the film to get made, due to Anwar not finding the perfect locations for it and then the pandemic halting the shoot — but Anwar also got really sick at the start of production, which nearly cost him his life.
“We were supposed to shoot in 29 days, but on the first day of shooting, I got dengue fever so I was hospitalized for eight days,” he said. “My blood cells were very low, I was almost gone. I almost died because I moved so much. But then. my producer hired a nurse from another city that looked like the headmaster from ‘Matilda,’ she was very scary so she gave me an ultimatum not to move.” And with that, shooting resumed eight days later.
“Impetigore” is an interesting and unique horror film that focused on the idea of shadow puppets, a cultural heritage to many cultures in Asia, including Indonesia. Puppets are made of animal skin, usually, and held up against a screen in front of a single source of light. And Anwar used shadow puppets as his main focal point for the plot but also used it as a guide for his cinematography — with one character in the main frame, with other characters, or puppets, waiting in the shadows, ready to act.
“A lot of violence in ‘Impetigore’ was done off screen, but people were able to visualize the violence in their minds,” Anwar explained, adding that he isn’t a fan of gore in horror movies.
“Impetigore” debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was released in the United States on Shudder on July 23, 2020. It is Indonesia’s entry for Best International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Watch the interview above.