The Scariest Scene In Satan's Slaves Will Have You Running For Safety

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Matt Donato and Ariel Fisher. In this edition: Matt pays homage to Satan's Slaves — one of the scariest horror movies out of Indonesia. Meanwhile, Ariel jumps several feet in the air.)

The rise of Indonesian horror cinema is predominantly thanks to three formidable filmmaking forces: Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel, and Joko Anwar. If you're unfamiliar, I highly recommend blowing through their collective catalog of solo projects and collaborations from "Macabre" to "Impetigore."

They've adapted video games, stunned festival audiences, and solidified horror's international appeal as they present regionally resonant nightmares that still speak the universally understood language of enthusiastic scares. I could go on, but we're here to spotlight the man responsible for my favorite title from the modern era's Indonesian horror boom.

Joko Anwar's loose remake of "Satan's Slaves" is exquisite foundational horror, which I was able to catch as part of 2018's What The Fest?! program. I watched this seamless translation of James Wan's style through an Indonesian lens in bed next to a slumbering girlfriend, on my laptop, in the daylight, and still interrupted her sleep since I couldn't stop jumping (whatever that looks like in a horizontal position). It's the movie I dubbed "the scariest film of 2018 you haven't heard of yet" — because catchy headlines please the internet gods — which is a quote that remains evergreen. Anwar's haunted house thriller knows its way around shadow-dwelling horrors and the most prominent frights, so which will I choose?

The Setup

Rini's (Tara Basro) family resides on the outskirts of Jakarta, which some might consider countryside seclusion. Mother Mawarni (Ayu Laksmi) is bedridden by an unknown disease that gives her a ghoulish complexion, a bell by her bedside to communicate. Father Bahri (Bront Palarae) can barely collect enough money to pay the bills. Rini and her brother Tony (Endy Arfian) keep little siblings Bondi (Nasar Annuz) and Ian (M. Adhiyat) on the straight and narrow – Ian only communicates through sign language.

Mawarni continually rings her beckoning bell whenever she needs help, but it's not without a constant creep factor that starts to loom over the entire family. Everyone assumes Mother is sick for earthly reasons, but are there wicked puppeteers trying to crumble this already struggling household?

The Story So Far

The family plays caretaker for Mawarni, a once successful musician whose royalties have nearly run out, adding to their financial problems. Rini, Tony, and the rest take turns answering Mawarni's ringing bell that signals for aid, which sometimes brings with it the creepiness we see in many bedridden horror films. Sometimes Mawarni might be standing, unaware, other times fidgeting at random. Still, Rini ensures Mother is looked after until her untimely passing when Mawarni collapses in front of Rini after the bell's audible cue.

Bahri organizes a funeral for his beloved, which introduces the family to the area's Ustad (an honorable title bestowed sparingly) — it's a respectful ceremony before life crashes back to reality soon after. Bahri still faces mountains of financial hurdles, one of which he must dispute in person. Rini, Tony, the youngest siblings, and their wheelchair-bound grandmother, Rahma Saidah (Elly D. Luthan), are left behind, experiencing spooky encounters after Mawarni's death.

One by one, from Rini to Bondi, they start seeing their mother's apparition around the estate — sometimes summoned by the radio, others interrupting midnight bathroom breaks. Ian wakes Bondi late one night so he can safely rock a piss, which is when the latter scare makes its mark.

The Scene

Ian gets out of bed and shakes Bondi awake. He signs "Come with me," but Bondi rolls over. Ian shrugs, realizing he's left to navigate the dimly lit house alone. Peering out their bedroom door, the first thing Ian sees is a portrait of Mawarni, gazing down the hallway. He assumes the international "I Have To Pee" position by cupping his crotch and scampers on toward the bathroom.

The tiny human gets to the rather large room where a well reverberates drip noises up its stone funnel. Ian concentrates as we hear a stream hit the ground, the camera surveying the surrounding darkness, then over Ian's shoulder into the kitchen. A faint whimper signifies something behind Ian; the camera shifts into predator mode, slowly stepping forward to the tinkling tot's back. We can only scream at our screens as the evil entity creeps right behind Ian, and– oh, good, it's only Bondi.

Better late than never when the undead are involved.

Ian finishes before Bondi — that's what you get for taking too long — and hurries back with a tad more confidence towards their bedroom. Ian disappears from view, Bondi following the same route when he's done. As he reaches the hallway with Mawarni's portrait, he curiously finds Ian standing right before the last stretch of pathway. "Scary," Ian signs, unwilling to walk the hallway alone. "Mom," he points to the artwork staring right back at the boys. Their solution? Bondi grabs a white sheet and Ian's hand, then advances at a sloth's pace.

The camera takes position like a running back behind two leading blockers as Ian and Bondi hesitantly confront their fears, hoping to cover Mawarni's face. The frame flips to the front, so we can see Ian holding both hands over his eyes and peering downward while Bondi's expression is rightfully unsettled. He chucks the blanket towards the painting in hopes of covering the portrait. Instead, it falls around an invisible figure like a no-budget Halloween costume.

Bondi freezes.

Ian won't look.

The blanket ghost doesn't budge.

Bondi prods his brother and cautiously starts turning his body for an escape.


The figure lunges towards a fleeing Ian and Bondi, who let out appropriate shrieks. Rini rushes in to find the boys huddled in the corner of the hallway, hysterically barking about ghosts, the sheet now messily draped over Mother's portrait as a final taunt.

The Impact (Ariel's Take)

I've only ever seen "Satan's Slaves" once, around when it first hit Shudder a couple of years ago. It was terrifying then, and it's still terrifying now.

Matt really hit the nail on the head with how he describes Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel, and Joko Anwar. They're unequivocal masters of their craft, and you should absolutely watch all of their work, post haste. But in the meantime, get scared with me, won't you?

Anwar really taps into something we can all relate to with this scene. At least, I'd imagine we can all relate to it. As a little kid, going to the bathroom alone at night can be genuinely terrifying. It's a similar kind of fear to going into your basement alone. You see things in the dark, whether you want to or not. Maybe it's your imagination running away with you. Maybe it isn't. Regardless, the result is usually terrifying. I've lost count of how many times I've scared myself senseless and had to bolt from the bathroom to the bed only to hide under my covers in order to calm down.

They are, after all, the ultimate spooky repellant. Hey, I don't make the rules. That's just science.

I'd be lying if I said I don't still do it from time to time, admittedly still often scared of the dark myself. So this scene is horrifying. Pair it with the fact that, as I'm pretty sure I've said in the past, I do not handle things running at me/the screen very well, this is just awful in the best way.

You feel safer because the big brother is there, the protector. And then the sheet falls, and you're left standing in silent stillness, waiting for something, anything to happen for what feels like an eternity. You kind of relax for a second. And then it makes that noise — that "BWAH!" — and it lunges.

I screamed a little, folx. Happened when I saw it the first time. Happened this time around, too. It's a good scare. A great scare. Simple like a caprese salad, only with a side of heart palpitations for extra zing.