CW: Blood, vomit, self-harm, general grossness
In The Queen of Black Magic (original title Ratu Ilmu Hatam), the character of Rani tells a story to the youngest character, Haqi, about one of the former caretakers of the orphanage, Mrs Mirah (Ruth Marini). She said that Mrs Mirah was caught using black magic, and as a result, was locked in a room by the head of the building, Mr Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru). Mirah banged her head against the door in a fit of rage, demanding she be let out. When the spirit of Mrs Mirah terrorizes the main characters, or anytime some sort of build-up is led to one of the film’s many scares, the pounding is heard through the film’s score. Someone is beating a timpani, and it only grows louder and louder as each of the movie’s creepiest scenes progress.
The movie follows three childhood friends, Nif, Jefri, and Anton as they and their families head back to their childhood orphanage to visit Mr Bandi as he lies on his deathbed, as a way to say their last goodbyes and to thank him for taking them in. As they stay there and look through old photo albums and videotapes, they begin to realize the terrible secrets of the orphanage, and have to face what they did to Mrs Mirah in the past. Mr Bandi is dying in his room, an oxygen mask strapped to his face, barely able to breathe, a sickly green color palette accompanying the walls next to his bed, like the ghosts of the past will not leave him alone, and because of what he has done in his past, he does not deserve to be left alone. Nif, Anton, and Jefri are three characters who must face an evil act they had done when they were kids, even though they were tricked into doing it. Mirah, in this case represents a guilty conscience that has never fully left their heads. Bandi has no guilt, no conscience, despite him being the worst of all, which is why Mirah never haunts him. This type of characterization helps make the film work, especially as it makes each person’s relationship to Mrs Mirah and their past much more interesting.
What makes the movie stand out as a horror film is its brutality. Each kill that is delivered oozes with blood. Eyes pop out of skulls, flies are vomited out of stomachs, limbs are cut up and ripped apart. Mrs Mirah preys on each person’s weakness, listening to their conversations and using illusions to conjure up their deepest fear or their biggest wish. Whether it be a fear of germs, childhood trauma, or a desire to be skinnier due to body dysmorphia, Mirah uses these fears to slowly kill her victims. The saddest scene, which will not be fully spoiled, occurs when the character of Eva is tricked into thinking she can make herself skinnier by the spirit. One of the best scares of the movie is when Haqi is watching the tape of Mrs Mirah from when she still worked in the orphanage as a young woman. The kids are playing soccer, but then the tape suddenly cuts to footage of Mrs Mirah walking with her limp out of the locked room, and the viewer starts to realize that this videotape is no longer showing the past, but the present, amplified by the gross sound of the bones of her feet crackling in the distance. The tape suddenly stops, and there is a brilliant shot of Mrs Mirah’s pale white face in the reflection of the television. The camera then moves up towards her full face, her long black hair, the blood pouring out of her mouth. The buildup was genuinely terrifying, and the makeup and blood effects helped make the payoff all worth it.
The Queen of Black Magic is an intense, brutal, yet fun watch. While its violence is gory, gross, and even sometimes too sadistic for its own good, its characterization, intense atmosphere and creative scares make it a horror film to seek out.