Horror warns of making a pact with the Devil time and time again, but lately, it’s on a hot streak of teaching that said pact leaves lasting ramifications for the generations to come. The Devil always comes calling for its debts, and it’ll claim payment from whoever is available. The opening scene sets up the entire chain of events, with Lesmana (The Raid: Redemption’s Ray Sahetapy) trading souls for wealth with a dark priestess on behalf of the Devil. Cut to many years later, where his children and ex-wife are summoned to his deathbed. With a lot of bad blood between them, and the money long since run dry, Lesmana’s family heads to his old estate in search of potential assets to claim for their own. Of course, they find something much worse waiting for them.
Written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto, one half of the twisted duo behind V/H/S 2 segment “Safe Haven” and writer/director of 2016’s visceral actioner Headshot, May the Devil Take You leans hard into familiar horror tropes before ripping the rug out from under its audience. A long-haired female ghost lurks in the blurry background delivering ineffective jump scares while we’re introduced to the core group of characters led by Alfie (Chelsea Islan), Lesmana’s eldest, estranged biological daughter with a serious grudge against her family. It’s her chilly dynamic with stepsiblings Maya (Pevita Pearce) and Ruben (Samo Rafael), half-sister Nara (Hadijah Shahab), and stepmother Laksmi (Karina Suwandhi) that grounds the film when you begin to wonder if this will amount to another weak ghost story centered around a vengeful female ghost. Stick with it.
Soon enough, Tjahjanto displays a knack for gory horror with an underlying physical dark humor that would make Sam Raimi proud. There’s almost a kitchen sink approach to the tactics the Devil and his undead priestess take to claim the souls owed by Lesmana’s debt, and they’re pretty much all extremely violent. When Tjanjanto tries to employ conventional jump scares, from sudden loud noises to peekaboo moments by pale-faced ghosts, it falls flat. May the Devil Take You won’t scare the seasoned horror fan. But when Tjanjanto lets loose his demons with maniacal abandon on the helpless victims, it’s a blast. The deaths are brutal and bloody, and glimpses of the bigger evil at play leaves you begging for more.
This isn’t the spooky slow burn possession haunter that its name and premise imply; instead it’s a blood-soaked, gross-out, violent thrill ride. Tjahjanto bypasses the lower budget with clever camera angles and physical horror gags, but mostly by keeping the viewer off their toes. Alfie and two-thirds of her siblings are likable characters worth rooting for, but there’s something gleefully demented about trying to guess what method of torture the Devil will inflict upon them next. It is a thrill ride that could’ve used some trimming, though, and the final showdown with the debt collector is drawn out a bit too long. At a near two hour runtime, the Devil starts to overstay his welcome.
May the Devil Take You will draw inevitable comparisons to another Indonesian horror film making its way through the festival circuit, exacerbated by similar plot premises. But beyond the setup, they’re very different approaches. Tjahjanto fearlessly seeks to elicit thrills and chills by serving up a visceral reminder that making a pact with the Devil is asking for immeasurable blood-spewing pain and suffering, all for his depraved entertainment (and ours). It’s not perfect and makes no attempts to disguise its influences, but this Raimi style spin on Satanic horror conjures up a devilishly fun midnight romp.