In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
There are images from both May the Devil Take You films that still haunt me. Something about the way director Timo Tjahjanto frames an image, lights it, paces a certain cut, and sets it in motion always manages to unsettle my stomach while drawing my eye to the things in frame I should fear most. A creeping dread runs through every moment of his horror output, punctuated occasionally with the jolt of a jump scare which, whether telegraphed or not, always seems to hit its mark. Yes, there’s a joy to watching Tjahjanto’s work. Whether it’s the splatter-inspired martial arts mayhem of The Night Comes For Us, or the deeply unsettling segment he directed for V/H/S/2, one can be assured that whatever he touches is going to, at the very least, rock your damn socks off. It will be intense, scary, and uncommonly beautiful to look at. It will also be bloody as hell.
Before watching May the Devil Take You: Chapter Two (or May the Devil Take You Too, depending on who you ask), I went back and watched the first film just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. While I will indeed confirm that you do not necessarily need to do the same in order to understand the sequel, I highly recommend doing so. May the Devil Take You is a lot of fun. As odd as it feels to say about a film from the growing Indonesian film scene, the films in this series feel a bit more mainstream than some of Tjahjanto’s harder stuff. This is not to say that they are soft, just that they feel more akin to things like The Conjuring or the 2013 Evil Dead remake than to, say, The Human Centipede. This is a good thing. Tjahjanto’s films wear their influences proudly, adding their own cultural flair into the mix, creating a rich, entertaining piece of work.
The first film, like The Conjuring, mashes up a bunch of tried an true demonic possession and haunted house imagery to make for an intense, frequently scary ghost story, with its greatest strength being its lead, Chelsea Islan. It told the story of Alfie, a young woman whose family is held by an ancient curse, and the actions she must take to free her and her sister once and for all.
She’s successful, but as these things go, the demon isn’t quite done with her yet, and it has a few other targets on its list to boot. The sequel, also written and directed by Tjahjanto, picks up two years after the events of the first film. Islan is back as Alfie, and this time she’s been kidnapped by a group of orphans who were all adopted by the same man. A man who, much like Alfie’s father, dabbled in the dark arts to dangerous ends. This group of young adults figures that if Alfie handled the demon before, she can help them handle it now. The demon, as demons are wont to do, has other plans. All the classic pieces are there: a spooky book bound in dubious materials and inked in blood, ominous spell recitations, levitations, flying sawblades, you name it. As the gang attempts to purge their world of ghouls and ghosties, Tjahjanto fills the screen with an unending parade of garish horrors and sudden shocks.
As I said before, this work feels more “mainstream” than Tjahjanto’s other work. This is not a complaint — I love mainstream horror. But if you’re expecting something way over the top, you’ll have to look somewhere else. If you’re looking for a chilling ghost story with a handful of seriously spooky moments, you’ll be pleased.
The performers, tasked with being both compelling and expendable, do a pretty good job wrenching emotional beats out of the story. Our star, however, really runs circles around the rest. Islan plays Alfie with a intensity that feels very accurate to her situation. Had I dispatched a demon only to be dragged back into doing it again by a bunch of strangers, I’d be just as unhinged as she is. By the time we’ve hit the final act and all the terrors of the film are in full view, Alfie’s intensity goes through the roof. Her eyes light up like those of a woman possessed (by emotion, not demons) while her voice thrusts her line delivery forward with all the subtlety of a hardcore rock band. Her performance suits the intensity of the film itself, creating a character who we can simultaneously root for and feel pity towards. I hate that Alfie is once again in this situation…but I wouldn’t want to be a demon in her presence.
Do yourself a favor and hunt this one down (its coming to Shudder as an exclusive), and give the original film a chance too. Neither is a groundbreaking cinematic achievement, but both are sharp, scary horror movies that totally rip, from a filmmaker whose M.O. is to make you sweat, squirm, and scream. May the Devil Take You: Chapter Two is no exception.
May the Devil Take You Too is now streaming on Shudder.