Popular Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto has two films at the 2018 Fantastic Fest. One is a thrilling roller coaster ride of violence, action, and excitement. The other is May the Devil Take You. That’s not to say May the Devil Take You is bad, it’s just not as good as his cop action film The Night Comes For Us.
This, however, isn’t a review of that movie which I obviously just wanted to mention. I’m here to talk mostly about Tjahjanto’s vastly different supernatural horror film, which is filled with demons, violence, and scares, as well as a lack of narrative cohesion that could have made it a real classic.
May the Devil Take You is a not-so-subtle Evil Dead homage about a man who makes a deal with the devil—and, on his death bed, passes it along to his extended family. While looking for some of his valuable assets, that family ends up in a remote cabin in the woods. Immediately, you can see where this is going.
The best thing about May the Devil Take You is that it’s legitimately scary. There are moments that will remind you of the first time you saw Ju-on or its American remake The Grudge, where the camera does these freaky, uncomfortably startling jump cuts. Other times, a frame will look unassuming until something starts moving out of focus in the background. Both of these techniques, and others that the filmmaker uses, can be terrifying. The creature designs are excellent too. They also owe a bit to The Grudge, with multiple ghostly demons who can contort and do all kinds of messed-up things.
Despite all of that, the film lacks motivation and momentum. Once the family gets to the house, they just keep getting scared over and over again by the same evil beings. After the fifth time the same demon tries to grab someone without succeeding, it gets way less scary. Also, while we quickly realise the specific motivations of the demons are to get payback for the riches bestowed on the father character, the demons don’t seem like they actually want that. Time and time again, they continually fail to take the family members when they almost certainly could have, or they terrorize them for no real reason. The result is a frustrating repetition that starts scary but drowns out most of its excitement after about 30 minutes.
Of course, things eventually do come into focus and the demons finally decide they want to accomplish their goal. That’s when May the Devil Takes You kicks things back up a notch, with some surprising mythology, incredible gore, and heroic actions by several of the characters. All of this is buoyed by Tjahjanto’s undeniable talent for filmmaking in all aspects, which earns the film lots of goodwill. Nevertheless, though May the Devil Take You is well-made, it’s ultimately a disappointing homage to Sam Raimi’s horror classic. Some will undoubtedly still enjoy it, but it really could have been so much more.
May the Devil Take You had its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest 2018. It does not yet have a U.S. release. As mentioned earlier, Tjahjanto’s superior non-genre film The Night Comes For Us comes to U.S. Netflix Oct. 19.