Netflix and Timo Tjahjanto have found success again with the predictably and riotously gonzo horror flick May the Devil Take You.
Coming courtesy of the same no-f***s-given filmmaking culture – and indeed the same director – as Netflix’s recent masterclass in brutality, The Night Comes For Us, May the Devil Take You is a gleefully inventive and grisly Indonesian horror flick with a clear mandate to fill just under two hours with as much violent suspense as possible.
You know you’re in trouble when the opening scene is of a man, Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy), making a pact with the devil. Such things never seem to go well; doing so in Indonesia is just asking for trouble – and trouble Lesmana gets. Bedridden and dying, Lesmana’s daughter, Alfie (Chelsea Islan), reunites with her step-siblings Maya, Ruben and Nara (Pevita Pearce, Samo Rafael and Hadijah Shahab), her actress step-mother (Karina Suwandhi), plus Ruben’s girlfriend Lily (Clara Bernadeth), mostly to figure out what to do with his dilapidated country home. It should come as no surprise that the home includes a basement with a nailed-shut door, and opening that door – which the kids inevitably do – unleashes all manner of unpleasantness, including a womanly ghoul in desperate need of a manicure.
If there’s a clear upside to Netflix’s inevitable world domination, it’s that films like this become accessible to a mainstream audience. And while May the Devil Take You is a bit more plotted and a bit less indulgent than Tjahjanto’s previous effort, and therefore not quite as good, it still works on mostly the same terms; let’s just take as much expertly and creatively-staged nastiness as possible, hang it on a genre hook, and leave everything else alone.
It’s a double-edged sword here. Tjahjanto’s skilful blend of horror elements and homages is given lots of time and room, and that’s inevitably what most viewers came to see. But the lack of any real subtext, dramatic throughline or connective tissue creates the impression of a series of icky vignettes rather than a coherent narrative. Then again, though, what else do you tune into a movie like this for? When you see Tjahjanto’s name on the billing, you expect certain things – May the Devil Take You capably and enthusiastically delivers them.