By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring Chelsea Islan, Pevita Pearce, Ray Sahetapy
Written & Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
Indonesian horror is having a moment at North American genre film festivals. After SATAN’S SLAVES made its rounds this summer to both Cinepocalypse and Fantasia, to much celebration (including our own), another strong horror film from that same country has come to Fantastic Fest. MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU is a classically-rooted film of familial terror that embraces horror history firmly.
MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU hits the ground running with a deal with the devil. Starting a film with a sacrifice to a demon feels a bit like starting at the end of the story, but the scares that come years after that fated ceremony are far more interesting than what may have lead Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy) to that ceremonial basement. After procuring a goat’s head, locks of hair, and a demon conduit he performs the deal and reaps the benefits. A newspaper montage over the opening credits shows us that Lesmana’s scheme paid off initially, with wealth and a new, attractive, wife but the personal boom was short lived. The next time we see Lesmana he is in the hospital, physically degenerating, with his family hesitantly by his side.
You see, Lesmana’s first wife killed herself after he abandoned both her and his daughter Alfie (Chelsea Islan) for his new wife and their new children. Though Alfie comes to his side at the hospital, her bitterness is uncontainable; she is the outsider in her own family.
After leaving the hospital, Alfie heads back to the long abandoned house she shared with her mother and father. This is the same place where he made his satanic contract, and it has long since been empty. She is looking through her childhood memories, when the rest of her family suddenly appears. They are scrounging through the house in search of valuables to help cover Lesmana’s medical costs. His current bout of bad luck includes losing all of his wealth, which makes his current wife quite unsatisfied. Theit looting is supposed to be a secret, but then Alfie confronts them. Against her wishes they continue to poke around in cabinets and peering into long-dormant closets, and come across a door that has been nailed shut and has prayers and warnings covering it. Anyone who has seen a similar horror film knows that these matters are not to be toyed with, but the characters in this horror film have not choice but to disobey the door and pry that sucker open.
Up to this point, MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU’s atmosphere has been tense and certain images jump on and off screen. If you blink, you might miss hints at the horrors this family is about to encounter. But after that door is opened, the pace picks up and hell is unleashed. From an aggressive and animated possession to plenty of gore and mayhem the film pivots into its own version of EVIL DEAD. There are demons chasing our survivors through the woods and a bug-eyed and bloodied body that wants revenge upon those who woke its slumber. This is not complete chaos, but it is exciting feeling that anything might happen from this point on.
Director Timo Tjahjanto is no stranger to the genre. As the filmmaker behind the insane “Safe Haven” segment in V/H/S/2 and other filks in Fantastic Fest’s past he has a well-established pattern of films that start slow, but burn brightly as soon as the peril is imminent. MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU follows a similar pattern of a slow, but measured introduction into what feels like inevitable carnage. I am curious to see if his other film at the festival, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US takes the same journey.
Fans of Indonesian horror and Sam Raimi will get a kick out of the homage-drenched MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU. It is a film that is well aware of horror’s past, and aims to add to its future.