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Indonesia is no stranger to gory horror films. In 1981 it produced the cult favourite Mystics in Bali where a German woman fights off floating heads with their guts still attached. In 2008 the Mo Brothers – Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel – made Macabre signalling a new wave in low budget terror. A decade on this still continues with Tjahjanto’s first solo horror movie – the Netflix release May the Devil Take You.
Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy, The Raid) makes a deal with the devil through a witch in order to make him rich. Years later Lesmana is in a mysterious coma. His children Alfie (Chelsea Islan, Headshot), Maya (Pevita Pearce), Ruben (Samo Rafael) and Nara (Hadijah Shahab) along with Lesmana’s cold wife Laksmi (Karina Suwandhi) gather in his old villa to examine the dying man’s assets. In the hot and tepid jungle home tensions rise between the estranged Alfie and her step-siblings and parents. Satanic possession doesn’t help matters.
Timo Tjahjanto has written and directed his fair share of splatter-filled action and horror films. His most recent release The Night Comes for Us, also on Netflix, is an exercise in every kind of way people can kill other people. May the Devil Take You can only disappoint then can’t it? Well yes and no.
Tjahjanto’s scripts, especially his recent ones, would benefit from a slight trim. 2016’s Headshot is overly long for the damsel in distress story that it is. The Night Comes For Us is an absolute action spectacle but I can see why others would be turned off by it’s length and occasionally excessive fight scenes. May the Devil Take You suffers from much of the same problems.
The film has literally one too many characters. Ruben’s girlfriend Lily (Clara Bernadeth) seems like an unnecessary edition and her quick removal leaves almost no impression. Elsewhere Alfie’s memories of her mother occupy unnecessary screen time especially as much of them are all the same flashback. These occasional lapses into dreamy melodrama distract from the much more fleshed out drama of Alfie’s present.
May the Devil Take You has plenty of scares regardless of the script’s occasional misstep. Nearly all of them are rooted in Tjahjanto’s trademark gore. A woman being dragged into a cellar leaves blood trails from her broken nails behind. Hammers are put to great use and one horrifying hallucination scene has one character peel their own face off. Still some of the more unique scares come from Tjahjanto’s trademark off-kilter camera techniques and the creature design.
Whether May the Devil Take You has its horror rooted in the folklore of South-East Asia a lá Macabre and Mystics in Bali or whether it’s more generic doesn’t really matter. It’s still scary. The rare CGI effect such as a stretching tongue or jaw is often not great but pretty rare thankfully. The cursed women of the film – in the grand tradition of Ringu and Dark Water – are all pale faced with black hair. Their red eyes and sharp yellow fangs add a more beastly dimension but they’re scariest when their form is only suggested. Cinematographer Batara Goempar Siagian’s use of focus turns them into formless shapes of red, white and black with dark pits for eyes.
Family reunions can be a kind of nightmare in themselves. Especially when several family members are possessed by Satan. May the Devil Take You may not be the best possession horror or even the best Indonesian horror but for those looking for some cheap and cheerful scares on Netflix you could do far, far worse.