Writer/director Timo Tjahjanto has been a dependable name in horror going back over a decade, when his short Dara first hit festivals and spawned a feature titled Macabre, both with his frequent Mo Brothers collaborator Kimo Stamboel. May The Devil Take You - as is the case for The Night Comes For Us - finds Tjahjanto going solo for another gory tale, and the extra workload clearly hasn't crippled his ability to surprise an audience with where his seemingly cliched plots will end up, offering all the creative FX scenes and outside-the-box narrative choices that fans of his earlier work with Stamboel and Gareth Evans (V/H/S 2) have come to expect.
In the opening scene we meet Lesmana, a desperate man who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for wealth (money literally pours from the ceiling - none of that visually unappealing "he checks his bank account and sees more zeroes" stuff), and then an opening credits sequence sums up the next couple decades: he uses his riches on a company, but is then beset by tragedy after tragedy, including the seeming suicide of his first wife. That woman is also the mother of our protagonist, Alfie, a pickpocket who finds out that Lesmana is on his deathbed. Upon visiting the hospital, she encounters her stepfamily, and the expected squabbles ensue. But they all meet up at Lesmana's property to sort through financial matters and the like, and that's when things get Evil Dead-y.
I don't think Tjahjanto would scoff at the Raimi comparisons - the evil force has a POV camera and people get possessed in an isolated house, and as with Evil Dead it's best to stay out of the basement. But the plot is closer to Drag Me To Hell overall, with our hero being put through the wringer as she heads toward a seemingly inescapable death as the Devil works to collect the requisite number of souls that are owed to him. Like Macabre, it's a bit drawn out, but it remains engaging thanks to a tense family dynamic. Alfie's stepmother was kind of terrifying even before she got possessed, and watching this dysfunctional family bicker over hospital bills and the like could have made for a decent film on its own. So when things get hairy (literally - one kill involves a head being crushed by thick ropes of hair wrapping around it) it's interesting to see how those relationships come into play as the body count begins rising. You know that one Treehouse of Horror where Homer murders Flanders without realizing he was a zombie? That's kind of the vibe here. I don't think the devil needed to bother with possessing anyone; if he just waited for a bit they probably would have killed each other anyway.
As I mentioned, things get a bit draggy at times - 110 minutes is a lot for a movie that only has five characters for the majority of its narrative. Perhaps it's because of its Raimi vibe, but I kept expecting it to REALLY get crazy, only for it to slow down again for another flashback (through which we gradually learn exactly how Alfie's mother died), and there's an unnecessary detour where a new character shows up only to get killed and barely mentioned again. But those lulls do help make the highlights all the more exciting: without getting into spoilers, voodoo dolls come into play in the film's back half, and it never gets old seeing them in use. There are also a number of terrific makeup gags - including someone ripping off their own face - that more than make up for the slower moments.
Like this year's Satan's Slaves, it's interesting to see a parents' shortcoming have devastating consequences for their children, i.e. the people they presumably wanted to provide for in the first place. And like in that film, it's odd that the offending party isn't even witness to how they screwed over their family; no one's learning a lesson here. Tjahjanto may have Raimi on the mind, but his film isn't as "fun" as those - it's actually kind of a bummer at times, especially when it focuses on the death of Alfie's mother. He gets a stronger handle on that tonal imbalance than many of his peers, but it's still an odd blend that will leave some folks unsure if they're supposed to be hooting and hollering at the gore/voodoo bits, or feeling sad that a bunch of kids lost some good parents and got stuck with selfish/awful ones. I liked it, but my likelihood of revisiting it is slim: if I'm in the mood for something wacky and relentless, I'll remember the sadder elements of the story, and if I want something more psychologically driven, I might be swayed away by the memory of a guy's head flying through the air.
But I'll remember it, which I guess is ultimately the important thing!