Warning: spoilers galore ahead as we get down and dermis with Joko Anwar’s latest horror. (For my review click here.)
I honestly wasn’t sure how Impetigore would end, and some of its many twists took me by surprise.
It’s a complex, layered story about identity. I think it’s saying that we can’t escape the past and if we try to it will catch up with us; tradition is powerful and modernity alone cannot hold the lines against it
First of all, Maya survives, despite being hung upside down and threatened with having her throat cut – the fate of poor Dini.
Before that, Impetigore explains its plot quite thoroughly, through the (heavy) use of flashbacks and ghostly children sharing their memories with Maya. There were one or two aspects that didn’t click with me though – possibly they’re not explained, or possibly I missed something.
So let’s move onto what happens. Two men come to the door of the big house while Dini is there alone, to tell her that Saptadi has the deeds to the house and only needs to hand them over to the heir, Rahayu. Dini says that she’s Rahayu – they take her through the forest then hit her over the head so she loses consciousness. When she wakes she’s hanging upside down over a bucket. Her throat is then cut and we then see Saptadi’s mother Nyi Misni hanging her skin to dry over a washing line.
Flashbacks show us that Nyi Misni had worked in the big house and become pregnant by her wealthy boss, who already has a son, Ki Donowongso. Saptadi and Donowongso were therefore half-brothers, though this was kept secret.
When Saptadi grew up, he and Shinta, the most beautiful woman in the village, fell in love. She was made to marry Donowongso, but they couldn’t have children. She slept with Saptadi again, but his mother discovered them and performed two spells: one to make Saptadi forget about the woman he loved and one to kill the baby – Saptadi’s – that Shinta was carrying. The baby, Rahayu, didn’t die but was born without skin, and was kept from the villagers.
Donowongso used black magic to save her – kidnapping and killing the three village girls and used their skin to make puppets. (Saptadi still uses these in his shadow puppetry shows.) Rahayu, with skin, was then introduced to the world, but the locals were sure he was responsible for the disappearance of the girls. About to perform his puppet show, he took a sword and killed the musicians behind him, and then his wife.
However it was not Donowongso who killed the musicians and Shinta, but Saptadi disguised as him; Saptadi then killed his rival, Donowongso.
Since those days, all babies born in the village have been born without skin then drowned immediately after birth; only one has been spared, a young man who now lives in a hut in the woods in great pain.
In the present day, the villagers only realise they have killed the wrong woman when a woman in labour gives birth to a baby without skin, showing the curse remains in place.
The gentle Ratih, who tries to save Maya, is pregnant, though we don’t see what happens to her baby. Her husband went to the city to look for a cure, but Maya has to tell her he was her own attacker and is now dead.
With the villagers after her, Maya sees the ghosts of the three little girls, who tell her they were buried under the cellar of the big house, and their skin made into puppets. If those puppets are now buried with their bones, the curse will be lifted. Maya and Ratih carry out the task but Maya is captured and hung upside down to be killed.
She tells Saptadi he is her father; his mother declares either Maya dies or she kills herself. He then takes the knife still in his mother’s hand and kills himself and she then slits her own throat. Meanwhile a baby has been born with skin – the curse has been lifted. Ratih frees Maya who escapes, though Ratih will not come with her.
Maya makes it to the main road and hitches a lift on a vegetable truck going to market.
There’s a a postscript one year on. The village is brightly lit and bustling, and a happy, pregnant woman goes outside her house to the toilet. She looks in a mirror, then walks off – and we see Nyi Misni’s reflection. The woman screams, and her husband rushes out; she is bleeding on the ground, her baby bump gone. In the mirror, Misni is eating the baby.
I’ve got my own postscript. I’m still unsure about Saptadi’s role. Was he killing his ex-lover and the other innocent villagers as a way to end the black magic, or purely to see Maya’s father blamed? Is he as wicked as his mother or just trying to draw a line under the past? I didn’t understand his motivations. I may have missed something though, and half-brothers throughout history and literature are prone to doing awful things and blaming each other.
By the way, both Saptadi and Donowongso have Ki before their names. I have googled but don’t know what this means. Both are village Elders – first Donowongso then Saptadi – so it may denote their social standing, or it may be their title. If you know, please tell me in the comments!