LFF 2018: May the Devil Take You Review
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Considering that writer-director Timo Tjahjanto played the role of co-director for the notorious horror-slasher film Macabre (2009) - reportedly the first Indonesian film to be banned in Malaysia due to its excessive violence - it should be no surprise to hear that his latest, May the Devil Take You, is as grizzly and gruesome as it gets. And though this may appeal to the horror fan, it instead works to undermine an intriguing and unusual story as well as its fine performances.
The film begins with a flashback and a deal made with the Devil. In comparison with the rest of the films’ gaudy representations of Satanists and witchcraft, the opening sequence is delightfully intriguing. It quickly works to set the tone both narratively and aesthetically, introducing its muted colour scheme alongside the curse cast upon Lesmana, before moving on to introducing the lead: Alfie, Lesmana’s eldest daughter (and overall badass) played exceptionally by Chelsea Islan.
When the film finally settles down in the creepy and isolated old house of Lesmana, in typical horror fashion, you know the good stuff is going to get started. And it goes off with a bang as the first possession takes place in a welcomingly brutal way. It is then that Tjahjanto toes the line between playing up the familiar horror tropes (such as the devilish possessions and monsters hiding in the shadows) and utilising fresher ways of telling the story; like the exploration of the Indonesian landscape surrounding the house, or the dynamic of Alfie’s relationship with her family. Her interactions with her stereotypically villainous stepmother and her three half-siblings of varying character provide another layer to the tale. You’re led to ask whether these parts of a broken family can really come together against this threat, or whether they should even try.
By the midpoint of the second act, however, any attempt at creating a nuanced horror film is replaced with all-out gore. It is disgusting and lacks the effort to push for the dark comedy and self-awareness that it seemingly wants to portray. A touch more of a pulpy tone would have made all the difference but instead, you’re faced with shot after shot of torture and turmoil. Admittedly, some are surprising in their ingenuity and none are poorly executed. Tjahjanto clearly is a master of nightmares, there are simply too many of them.
Nearing the two hour mark, the blood, guts, and witchery wear thin. With every false ending, the film seems to age another day. When the finale finally takes place it’s undermined by your belief that another trap is on its way, before taking a different turn with plot holes and unanswered questions remaining in their plenty. But the biggest question raised in this film: why does the devil employ such half-hearted workers? If the demons put half as much effort into their evil-doing as they do in their attempts to terrify, maybe they’d actually get the job done.
There are two screenings of May the Devil Take You at the London Film Festival and you can buy tickets on the BFI website.