In director Kimo Stamboel and screenwriter Joko Anwar's reimagining of the 1981 Indonesian horror classic THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, Hanif (Ario Bayu) returns with his family to the rural Indonesian orphanage where he was raised. He's joined by his best friends who have returned to pay their respects to the gravely ill director. Their homecoming turns into a nightmarish ordeal when they're terrorised by someone using black magic to avenge past evil deeds.


Stamboel is one half of the Mo Brothers, with fellow Indonesian filmmaker, Timo Tjahjanto. Together they co-directed MACABRE, KILLERS and HEADSHOT, the short film DARA, and a horror anthology segment, TAKUT: FACES OF FEAR.


In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Stamboel discussed modernising a classic horror film and the experience of directing as the art of compromise.


FRIGHTFEST: What initially drew your interest in directing this remake?


Kimo Stamboel: What excited me about this project was working with Joko Anwar on the script. We have been friends for such a long time, but we have never collaborated in this way, so I had the opportunity to work with him. It's a horror film that I'm passionate about, but it's also a remake of the 1984 film that impacted me when I was young. I was a little bit traumatised watching that film, and in 2018 when they asked me to join their project, I knew I wanted to do it.


FF: The story has competing tones of drama, suspense, and supernatural horror, putting some people off. Was one of the challenges striking a balance between these different tones?


KS:  I'm the guy who tries to interpret what's in the script, and I also have to give them my treatment towards it. The script itself was already thick on the drama and backstory, but on the other hand, you have the producers who are trying to make the film, and they'll say, "Kimo, please make this a little bit simpler, and give it a pace, so the audience aren't going to be bored." My job is to make sure everything is in place, so it's enjoyable to watch, and that's not easy.


I'm not the type of director who says, "It has to be like this." I'm a collaborator, so when Joko says that there's something they wanted in the script, I have to know what it is, and I have to go deep inside it. But then what's the producer's point of view? I have to balance it out because sometimes it's not in the script, and sometimes it has to be created through my treatment.


FF: When you're directing, do you find yourself referencing, whether consciously or not, those films and filmmakers you admire?


KS: You watch so many films that sometimes you forget that you're applying it as you're shooting. Most of the time, it doesn't occur to me and then it's, "Oh shit, I referenced that film." I was consciously slipping in a reference from somewhere with this project, but my bible is the script.


I watched the old one, not to modernise it, but to give it a different treatment while keeping it intact. It's challenging because the 1984 one is a cult classic, and you can't replicate that. But I tried to bring something manic to several scenes that was also incorporated in the script.



FF: Picking up on your point about bringing a manic feel to this remake, the visuals in horror are essential, but the music and sound design can unsettle the audience's nerves, and provoke their imagination into becoming manic.


KS: It's a combination of a lot of elements, and everything is connected. When you take out the scoring and the sound effects, the movie is not that scary. Okay, you see many visuals in front of you, but it's not enhanced if you don't have those elements of the score and sound design.


At this stage [after the film is cut together] I also think about references to other films, and I was lucky to have a great composer and sound designer to push the film towards being something. This contributes to the final product, and hopefully, it achieves what needs to be in the final film.


FF: Interviewing Larry Fessenden, he spoke of how a film is abandoned. Would you agree?


KS: Filming has a lot of aspects, and we've time and budget limitations. We push it as far as we can and sometimes I wanted it to be either a little scarier or gorier, but at the end of the day, the producers have to give you the time and place for that.


Another thing that can be a barrier is censorship. The producers wanted this to be 17+, and the censorship board said it was going to be a 21+ film, "What do you guys want to do?" [Laughs] At the end of the day, we have to follow those rules and accept them if we want the film to be released. We tried to push it as much as we could to bring this film alive.


There's always something on the set that I could have done, and then sitting in the edit, and it's that moment of, "Oh man, I forgot to do that shot." We tried to make it work as much as we could, and as filmmakers feel from our point of view that it's okay.


We human beings are never satisfied. Everybody can tell you that you've made this perfect film, but you're never satisfied. It's the nature of filming, and if you have a gazillion dollars, you can make time for yourself, and maybe make your perfect film, but I don't think you will. What's the fun of it? People wanting to talk about it is actually what's fun.


THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC is streaming exclusively on Shudder.


Paul Risker.


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