As one half of the Mo Brothers, Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto co-helmed a triple punch of visceral genre efforts in the form of Macabre, Killers, and Headshot. All three movies are enjoyable experiences, especially if you like some darkness and blood-letting in your entertainment.These days, however, the maverick pairing have aspirations to ride solo for a while. Tjahjanto has been especially busy in recent times, directing two feature-lengths in the same year, both of which are playing at this year’s festival. The one we’ll be focusing on here, May the Devil Take You, also marks his first foray into supernatural territory — and it’s a spooky, blood-spewing thrill ride.
Bringing literal meaning to the phrase “giving the Devil his due”, the story follows a family that must pay for their father’s horrible mistakes. You see, the selfish bastard foolishly got into business with the Prince of Darkness in exchange for wealth. In the end, though, all it got him was a body covered in hideous boils, a doomed fate, and bankruptcy. He couldn’t even save a penny of his cursed fortune, which only reinforces the idea that supernatural loan sharks are never a good idea.
Skip ahead to 10 years later, and the old home-wrecker is dying. As such, his family are summoned to his hospital bed to say their goodbyes. It’s not a friendly reunion at all. His daughter, Alfie (Chelsea Islan), isn’t upset to see him on the road out. She’s more upset at the fact he’s left her penniless and she has to spend time with her step family, whom she really doesn’t like. That’s until they all decide to visit his creepy old house to find valuables to sell anyway. But there are no valuables awaiting them there — only Hell.
What ensues is a haunting-cum-possession caper that sticks to familiar beats you’ve seen before. The action takes place in a dilapidated woodland house, our victims are tormented by demonic shenanigans, and dark family secrets are exposed as Hell’s stranglehold tightens its grip on the unfortunate victims. You know where it’s going from the outset, but the derivative qualities aren’t to the film’s detriment by any means. They merely serve as a foundation for Tjahjanto to unleash chaos. And when he does, it’s a treat.
May the Devil Take You is more fun and gross-out than your average supernatural chiller. The movie doesn’t waste time getting into the action and the resulting nightmare packs some mean-spirited punch. It’s evident that Tjahjanto is a fan of The Evil Dead — aesthetically, he takes cues from the Sam Raimi horror handbook by making his demonic entities gleefully vicious and demented. It’s a good approach that helps elevate the movie above like-minded efforts which focus on jump scares and creaky floorboards.
But that’s not to say May the Devil take you is averse to some well-executed traditional scares. These evil cretins do occasionally torment the family with some typical supernatural hocus pocus — faulty electricity, unwelcome reflections, flying furniture, etc. However, when push comes to shove they’re more interested in French kissing and snapping limbs. I won’t spoil the surprises, but Tjahjanto’s penchant for splatter remains intact and gore-hounds will rejoice when the the amped-up tension reaches fever pitch and the proverbial shit hits the fan.
The dysfunctional family dynamic among the characters is also enjoyable. They’re assholes, but in an endearing sort of way. They’re bound together by terrible circumstances and their reasons for resenting each other are justified. That said, it’s really difficult to care for any of them, which makes their plight difficult to sympathize with. Still, this is the type of movie where there’s ghoulish joy to be found in watching a group of people being picked on — until they’re picked off — and that’s what we’re here for at the end of the day. Don’t be surprised if you end up rooting for the forces of darkness here.
The cast are solid across the board. Pevita Pearce, who plays the stepsister Maya, is a menacing delight when she’s eventually let loose. Of course, the ensemble’s purpose in a movie like this is merely to suffer or unleash terror, and they all do a serviceable job in their respectable roles throughout. My only complaint is that Islan didn’t get to showcase any of the ass-kicking abilities that she’s capable of, but that’s just nit-picking. This is nightmare-inducing popcorn fare and everyone does their part to make the movie hit all the right genre notes.
Ultimately, May the Devil Take You just wants to be a crowd-pleaser for the midnight owls it’s intended for. If there’s a lesson to be learned from what transpires, however, it’s that greed is the real evil in this world. The pursuit of riches makes people do horrible things and drives a wedge between relationships. Be wary of that, as you live your lives from here on out, dear readers. Otherwise, the Devil might come for you someday.