(Sebellum Iblis Menjemput)
Director/Screenplay – Timo Tjahjanto, Producers – Wicky V. Olindo & Sukhdev Singh, Photography – Batara Goempar, Music – Fajar Yuskemal, Visual Effects – Antibrain Studio & Kantor Post, Special Effects Supervisor – Suhanto, Makeup Effects – Novie Ariyanti, Art Direction – Antonius Boedy Santoso. Production Company – Sky Media/Legacy Pictures/Ideate Media.
Chelsea Islan (Alfie), Pevita Pearce (Maya), Samo Rafael (Ruben), Karina Suwandi (Laksmi Surya), Ray Sahetapi (Lesmana Wijaya), Ruth Marini (The Priestess), Hadijah Shahab (Nara), Clara Bernadeth (Lily), Kinaryoshi (Alfie’s Mother), Nicole Rossi (Young Alfie)
Lesmana Wijaya makes a deal with a priestess who conducts a ceremony that produces instant wealth for him. He goes on to become a successful real estate developer. Several years later, Lesmana’s estranged daughter Alfie is called to his hospital bedside where is suffering from an unexplained malady. She sees the apparition of a strange figure whereupon Lesmana collapses dead. Alfie heads to her father’s old house in the countryside, arriving just before his wife Laksmi and other children who are searching for papers and anything of value. After they remove the seals on the cellar door, Maya is snatched down into the cellar and returns possessed by something that is buried there.
Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto first appeared on my radar as one half of the directing team known as The Mo Brothers (the other brother being the unrelated Kimo Stamboel) who made the gore-drenched Macabre (2009), a homage to the 1970s Backwoods Brutality cycle. This was an expansion of their short film Darah (2007), which appeared in the anthology Takut: Faces of Fear (2008). The Mo Brothers subsequently made Killers (2014) about a friendship between two serial killers and the non-genre action film Headshot (2016). On his own, Tjahjanto has made May the Devil Take You and the jaw-droppingly frenetic balls-to-the-wall action film The Night Comes for Us (2018), plus contributed episodes to two horror anthologies – the completely wild L is for Libido segment of The ABCs of Death (2012) and the Safe Haven episode of V/H/S/2 (2013)
On the basis of the work he has done so far, Timo Tjahjanto has arrived on my Must Watch Directors list. The sheer ferocity and energy of The Night Comes for Us, the gore-drenched extremes of Macabre, the sadistic chill of Killers and the fearless willingness of L is for Libido to go out on a limb to defy taboos and all good taste show Tjahjanto has a highly promising talent with one foot in the action genre, one right at the forefront of the horror genre.
On the basis of these other films, I had high hopes of May the Devil Take You. Tjahjanto has stated that it was a homage to 1980s films like The Evil Dead (1981). From this you can see he has drawn the same essential plot – a group of people isolated at cabin in the woods (or house in the countryside) and accidentally unleashing an evil buried in the cellar that proceeds to possess them.
Unfortunately, May the Devil Take You disappoints. In The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi wasted an absolute minimum of time on exposition or the background of the characters – all we knew about them was they were a group of college friends/couples. By contrast here, Timo Tjahjanto spends a good deal of time taking us through the complicated family situation (although at the end I was still not quite sure whether Alfie and the others were step-brothers or the children of Maya’s former marriage). What The Evil Dead gets through within in its first fifteen minutes takes Tjahjanto 45 minutes of runtime. Raimi also gave us almost nothing in the way of backstory about what the evil dead were whereas here Tjahjanto sketches out a prologue about businessman Ray Sehtapi and his deal with a priestess and then his various marriages and business collapse (all of which comes to play back into the story later). You start looking at your watch and wondering how long it will be before the film gets to the horror element.
Certainly, from about the time that Pevita Pearce gets dragged down to the cellar and emerges as full on evil dead, the horror element kicks in. On the other hand, I kept expecting Timo Tjahjanto to go completely insane with this side of things and the disappointment of the film is that he never does. A Poltergeist (1982)-inspired scene where one of the possessed turns up in a closet and from underneath Samo Rafael’s bed is disappointing – all the jumps in the scene are predictable and happen exactly where you expect them to.
The sole scene that does have some impact is where Chelsea Islan has a dream of her mother (Kinaryoshi) in which the mother tears the skin off her face. The climactic scenes involving the use of voodoo dolls to cause bodily harm and throw the principals around vies between the silly and occasionally effective. Other than that, there is surprisingly little to May the Devil Take You.
Timo Tjahjanto subsequently made a sequel sequel May the Devil Take You: Chapter Two (2020)