Dancing Village The Curse Begins

Dancing Village: The Curse Begins (Badarawuhi di Desa Penari) (2024)

“What should we do after this?” asks a resident of Desa Penari, or ‘Dancing Village’. “I don’t know,” replies local shaman Buyut (Diding Boneng). “One thing is for sure: there shouldn’t be any more victims.” To reveal that this exchange takes place at the very end of Dancing Village: The Curse Begins (Badarawuhi di Desa Penari) is no spoiler, because Kimo Stamboel’s horror feature is in fact a prequel to Awi Suryadi’s KKN di Desa Penari (2022), Indonesia’s all-time highest grossing film. Indeed its status as a prequel ironises Buyut’s final line – for the viewer already knows that there are more victims to come, years after this, in an infernal audition process that may never end.

Despite its English-language title, this is no more an origin story than Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016). For while its main events unfold in 1980, its prologue takes place in 1955, and even that earlier episode represents a (temporary) end, rather than a beginning, for the peculiar curse that Badarawuhi (Aulia Sarah, fabulously othered) has cast over the village. Whether she is goddess or demon, it is implied that the baleful influence of Badarawuhi in this remote East Javan rural community stretches back much further then the 21st and 20th centuries, and may even have been there forever.

Dancing Village: The Curse Begins opens in 1955 with a peculiar ritual, as a selection of young women in a trance-like state writhe and shake, and collapse one by one, with the last remaining dancer chosen to serve Badarawuhi – but while all this is going on, the elder Putri (Pipien Putri) steals an ouroboros-like bangle belonging to the distracted goddess and gives it to her own terrified young daughter Inggri (Princeza Leticia) to remove from the village precinct, so that Badarawuhi’s powers will be diminished. 25 years later, as the older Inggri (Maryam Supraba) is bedridden with a bizarre, painful illness in the city, her young adult daughter Mila (Maudy Effrosina) is instructed by a shaman to return the bangle to Dancing Village. 

Heading there with her cousins Yuda (Jourdy Pranata) and Arya (Ardit Erwandha) as well as the local guide Jito (Moh. Iqbal Sulaiman), Mila takes up residence with the villager Ratih (Claresta Taufan Kusumarina), whose own mother (Dinda Kanyadewi) – intimately connected to the events of 1955 – is afflicted with the same disease as Inggri. Instructed to wait till the village elder Buyut return, the three cousins and Jito bear witness to all manner of sneakily, snakily weird happenings as Badarawuhi seeks to reemerge, to reclaim her bangle, and to reawaken her long dormant grip on the village. 

Dancing Village The Curse Begins

With its focus on paranormal goings on out in the Indonesian sticks, Dancing Village: The Curse Begins is not only intimately related to the events of KKN di Desa Penari, but also falls into the same tradition as films like The Queen of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam) – both Liliek Sudijo’s 1981 original or Stamboel’s 2019 reimgaining – and Joko Anwar’s Impetigore (Perempuan Tanah Jahanam, 2019), all of which show a modernising, Islamicised nation still being haunted by its pagan past.  

Sweet-tongued, semi-Sapphic Badarawuhi is an intriguing antagonist. She may have extraordinary powers to strike down, even from a distance, people and livestock with illness and crops with blight – but her long-term goal appears not to be wide-scale pandemonium or world domination, but instead just to assemble and gather a malleable terpsichorean troupe of young women for her own personal entertainment, and to punish the village whenever it fails to dance to her tune, providing her with new recruits. Accordingly, the spirit world that forms a parallel dimension in the shadows of this village falls midway between the Further from the Insidious series, and the dance academy from Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, all in an East Javan backwater. 

Part of what makes Dancing Village: The Curse Begins so charming in its appeal is how relatively low its stakes are. Badarawuhi is the most parochial of evildoers, choreographing her malicious whimsies as a private performance for herself and a male army of monkey-eating ghosts, and so this supernatural spookfest is not just creepy, but more importantly, utterly surreal, as though we were being invited to understand the pulses and rhythms of provincial life from the timeless perspective of an ancient, malevolent deity. 

strap: Kimo Stamboel’s paranormal prequel gets three outsiders moving to a rural community’s surreal beat in Eighties Indonesia

© Anton Bitel