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Joko Anwar talks about the making of "Pengabdi Setan"

Joko Anwar (far right) with actors Tara Basro and Dimas Aditya as well as
the producer of "Pengabdi Setan".

When the movie "Pengabdi Setan" was first released in Indonesia in 1980, it sparked a phenomenon when it was well received by the audiences, which include director Joko Anwar.

According to Joko, the movie was among his favourite movies to watch when he was younger, he was never bored of watching it even though he was scared.

However, after three decades, he did not expect that he would be the individual responsible of remaking the horror movie.


Taking the risk to remake the movie paid off when "Pengabdi Setan" became a hit in Indonesia, with 4.2 million people having watched it.

The success has brought the movie over to Malaysia and recently Cinema Online had the chance to meet with the talented director at a premiere with the media.

Read on to find out what Joko Anwar has to share about the making of his latest movie.


Joko Anwar hopes that "Pengabdi Setan" will get a good reception in Malaysia.

Cinema Online: Why did you decide to remake the movie?

Joko Anwar: I have been a big fan of the movie since I was young. Even though I was scared to watch it, I still repeatedly went to the cinema to do so because it was a very good movie. So I hoped that there would one day be a "Pengabdi Setan" remake and finally it has come true. Even then it was only after I worked hard for 10 years looking for a producer who would want to bring this to the silver screen. Finally I got the green light to do the project.

What was the first thing you did after getting the green light from the producer?

My main focus was to look for a suitable location and believe it or not, we took a long time looking for a location because I wanted to maintain the '80s backdrop and eventually we found an old house that hasn't been occupied for 20 years.

However, after inspecting the house, I realised that it needed a lot of renovation and we tried looking for a different location but failed to do so. So, we decided to go back to that house and did a full renovation so that we could do our filming inside. Even though it took a long time to renovate, it was worth it.

How long did the filming take?

Believe it or not, "Pengabdi Setan" took only 18 days to film, whereby each day we would finish 25 scenes. It was quite impossible but the cast stayed committed and we were able to pull it off.

What was different about this filming process was that we did the filming from scene to scene and not by location as how it's usually done. During the filming, I did not use any computer-generated imagery (CGI) because I wanted the movie to look realistic.

Why did you choose Bront Palarae to star in your movie?

I found out about Bront while watching the trailer for "Terbaik Dari Langit" three years ago and I immediately flew to Malaysia just to catch the movie. After watching it, I tweeted that I have just finished watching it and I love it! Unexpectedly, the cast members were following my Twitter and they contacted me and we met up that evening.

Since the meeting, I have worked with Bront on the HBO series "Halfworlds" and I chose Bront for "Pengabdi Setan" because the character fits him well. Moreover, Bront is very popular in Indonesia at the moment.

Did you face any challenges while filming? Was there any disturbance on the production?

The disturbance did not happen only during filming, but also while we were doing the editing and [it appears] on the film. Let me give an example: in one scene we only used 24 extras to play the ghosts but while we were editing, we noticed that there was more than 24 people.

How about the rest of the cast? You once again use children as your main cast.

When it comes to the rest of the cast like Tara Basro, it was no problem as we have worked together before and I really like her acting. In fact, she was willing to add on 20kg just to play her character. As for the children, we held auditions to find those who would be the most suitable and Dimas Aditya, Endy Ervian and Nasar Anuz proved to be the best.

As you know, I like to use newcomer children because they are easy to guide and will follow whatever I request for. If I take experienced kid actors, they might already have their own interpretation of the characters. Therefore, I prefer using new talents.

What's your expectation for this movie in Malaysia?

Having succeeded in my home country Indonesia, I am hoping that "Pengabdi Setan" will be able to bring the Malaysian audience to cinemas to watch this movie, while at the same time supporting your local actor (Bront Palarae) who stars in this Indonesian movie.


Cinema Online, 29 November 2017