Indonesia has been a safe, happy place for genre fans in recent years, with the country spawning a decent number of effective horror flicks and stunning martial arts epics. The industry over there is deservedly on the upturn, and that’s what made me so excited to take in director Timo Tjahjanto’s MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU.
Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy) – a businessman with ambitions of greatness – enlists the help of a satanic priestess to perform a ritual that will give him what he wants: fame and fortune. Obviously, he never read The Monkey’s Paw. If he had, he’d know wishes like that never turn out so hot. Initially, Lesmana finds success, becoming a millionaire and building a family with a new woman, but years later the devil comes to collect its due.
Having lost his fortune and now on his deathbed, Lesmana’s children – including Alfie, (Chelsea Islan) daughter to his first wife – come together to divide the family’s assets. They meet in the abandoned home in the woods where Lesmana originally performed the ritual, and it’s not long before demons and all sorts of nasty shit starts hitting them in the face.
All the buzz around the film echoed the same sentiment – that an Evil Dead influence seeps from its pores… or rather, spews from its mouth in a torrent of bile and blood. There’s no doubting the claims, as the film is packed with imagery heavily inspired by Raimi’s classic. Tjahjanto’s demons bear a striking resemblance to the deadites, both in appearance and mannerisms.
MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU’s demons cackle and taunt like any good deadite should, but differ slightly in traditional Asian style, with their long black hair and raspy smoker’s groans. We get all the classic gags, like hair unraveling from someone’s throat, and hags hiding in the basement.
If you’re anything like me and you’ve watched the original Evil Dead a million times, you’ll catch all the visual references. Characters discover unpleasant ritualistic paraphernalia behind a door that should have remained nailed shut. There a brief Raimi-esque fast-cut sequence of someone arming themselves with tools, and even a shot of another person discovering keys above a doorway in the exact same uncomfortable angle seen in The Evil Dead.
However, MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU doesn’t quite have the same visceral, frenetic style of its influences. The story slows down often for Alfie to talk with her stepbrothers, stepsisters and their harsh mother who holds little regard for her. The film is just as interested in the interpersonal family drama as it is with demonic possession. There are moments where the characters seem very calm considering the circumstances, taking time out while their mother has become a snarling, gibbering escapee from hell.
But these quieter moments are somewhat balanced with some fun, gory effects, and a nice, periodically synth soundtrack adds to the unease. Sure, the film is ultimately a bit overlong and the constant cutting between the isolated house in the woods and what’s happening back in civilization breaks some of the tension that may have otherwise been more palpable, but I appreciate what Tjahjanto is doing here. There’s plenty to like here for horror fans. Gimme more Indonesian films.
MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU is currently a part of the lineup at Fantastic Fest 2018.