Tag: timo tjahjanto

May the Devil Take You Too

May the Devil Take You Too (2020)
★★ / ★★★★

Writer-director Timo Tjahjanto takes his sequel to “May the Devil Take You” in an interesting direction: Underscore the relationship between Alfie (Chelsea Islan)—our heroine and one of the survivors from the first feature—and the Devil in a way that promises there will more terrors to come after this installment. The reason why this chapter must exist is clear. Alfie has had extensive experience in dealing with what’s beyond the human realm. Such encounters tend to stick to her like a curse. She can save herself, her family, and strangers who ask for help. Although she is able to triumph in individual battles, is there actually a chance for her to win the war?

I enjoyed this follow-up a bit more than the original because I felt it is more ambitious with its ideas. Alfie is no longer the girl who just so happens to have a father who sacrificed his daughter’s soul to quench his greed. She is now a symbol, an example, and perhaps even hope of outsmarting the Devil in its own twisted game. Islan’s Alfie here is not only more confident, she is a fighter: for herself, for her little sister Nara (Hadijah Shahab), and everyone else who find themselves haunted by the beyond due to an adult figure making a similar deal with the Devil.

The setup is perfunctory but it does the job. A group of young adults who used to reside in the same orphanage kidnap Alfie and Nara. Some of them are convinced that Alfie may be able to stop an evil spirit from claiming their souls. The apparition is named Ayub (Tri Hariono) and he craves revenge. The children he abused murdered him and left his body in the cellar. Just like the previous film, this story unfolds in one place—an orphanage of physical, mental, and sexual trauma. None of the characters are well-adjusted; they’re barely even functional.

It is quite astounding that there is only a two-year gap between the release of the original and the sequel because the special, visual, and cosmetics effects are far more advanced here. Perhaps it is due to having a higher budget, but I wouldn’t put money on it. We’ve seen time and again that all the money in the world is no substitute for old-fashioned craft. I think Tjahjanto studied the first outing closely and took notes of elements that could be improved upon.

For instance, women with long, black hair wearing white gowns is so often used in Asian horror. At this point, it’s tired and dated. But look at how Tjahjanto handles them here. Instead of placing emphasis on the whole body, how it moves down hallways and the like, focus is from the chest upwards. The horrifying make-up, occasionally mixed with CGI, coupled with exaggerated facial expressions create terrifying, claustrophobic encounters. This is also a bit quieter than the original so there is more room for creepy, goosebump-inducing moments.

What prevents the picture from functioning on another level is, like the predecessor, a lack of convincing human connections. For example, Alfie and Nara’s interactions are often shallow reminders that they’re sisters. But we already know that. What else is there to their bond? How has their relationship evolved ever since the events in the first movie?

As for the orphans, there are far too many of them. Although we get the sense that a few are closer than others (like Budi and Leo, the suicidal and the alcoholic played by Baskara Mahendra and Arya Vasco, respectively), it is never shown to us how close they are as a collective. In a horror movie with a handful of characters introduced at once, it is paramount that the screenplay be thoroughly efficient in getting us to care about as many of them as possible. Otherwise, they’re just sheep to be gutted. At least majority of the practical effects are on point.

May the Devil Take You

May the Devil Take You (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

In the middle of this overlong supernatural horror film from Indonesia, I couldn’t help but admire Timo Tjahjanto’s willingness to put every trick he’s learned from ‘70s and ‘80s terror flicks into a blender and then force the mixture down our throats until we grow sick of it. It cannot be denied that the writer-director of “May the Devil Take You” loves both horror movies and horror images. But it also cannot be denied that the screenplay lacks critical details that would allow the story being told to stand out from its classic inspirations (Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead,” William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” to name a few) and modern contemporaries.

It starts off with great potential. Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy) is desperate to become rich and so he makes a deal with the Devil through one of its priestesses (Ruth Marini). The opening sequence is inspired because it feels specific to a culture. Sure, we get the usual blood sacrifice, circle of magic with a star in the middle, and creepy incantations. But what witchery involves, for instance, having to consume a lock of hair? It gets stranger from there. It is near impossible not to watch wide-eyed as bizarre images flood the screen. The introduction promises freshness, boundless energy, a good time.

But it is a nosedive from there. For years, Lesmana experienced financial success, particularly in making investments, but when he is required to pay the second time, he finds himself unable to deliver. Years pass and Lesmana is on his deathbed with a mysterious illness. His biological daughter, Alfie (Chelsea Islan), who he has not seen for a decade, decides to visit, perhaps to say goodbye. But Alfie is not the only visitor. From the moment she stepped into the hospital elevator, she feels there is a presence. Initially she chalks it up to exhaustion, her mind playing tricks on her. But then it appears again behind a hospital curtain, right next to her father.

And so we go through the oft traverse parabola of a loved one visiting a mysterious place out in the country in hopes of finding answers. In this case, Alfie goes to her father’s abandoned villa to find something that might help to cure Lesmana’s affliction. There is a curious angle to be had here. Unlike Alfie, Lesmana’s second wife, a former actress (Karina Suwandhi—quite villainous but ultimately underused), and his three stepchildren (Pevita Pearce, Sam Rafael, Hadijah Shahab) are already on the scene—not to find answers but to acquire valuable items they could sell. It is obvious that this is not just a story about having to fight the Devil.

It is also about biological and adoptive children finding commonalities through tragedy. A few questions worth considering: What does Lesmana mean to Alfie when he hasn’t been a father to her for a decade? What does Lesmana mean to his stepchildren when it is apparent that their mother loves his money more than the man? And how might the children move forward should Lesmana die? It doesn’t work because the dramatic foundations are largely absent.

More effort is put into how to make human levitation look convincing, how to make a possessed person crawling up the walls as creepy as possible, how to make breaking or cutting limbs look extremely gross and painful. While these horror images are given appropriate love and care, and some of them are quite impressive, it’s a challenge to become emotionally invested in the story when a similar level of effort is not given to character details and relationships. When new bonds are formed and then broken later on, notice it is a struggle to feel a thing. So then what is the point of telling this particular story? It might as well not have been told at all.

“May the Devil Take You” shows that just because inspirations are there doesn’t necessarily mean a picture is able to stand strong on its own. While it isn’t a requirement to be original, the human factor must be well-defined, it must possess a certain flow so that we buy into the changes the characters undergo, and it must make sense from an outsider’s point of view so we are able to sympathize and empathize with whatever is going on. Here, somewhere along the way the human element becomes an afterthought.


V/H/S/2 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

I hated “V/H/S” so much, I was not sure I could stomach a sequel. However, I abide by a personal code of giving every film a chance so I leapt into “V/H/S/2,” composed of four segments and one unifier, feeling optimistic and willing to be impressed. In some ways, I was. There is a hidden gem here that deserves to be made into a full-length feature film.

“Tape 49,” the unifier, is not that segment. On the contrary, it is the least developed and most predictable of the bunch. Although it has potential because it involves two private investigators (Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott) who are looking for a college student that has gone missing, the writer-director, Simon Barrett, gives his characters neither engrossing detective work nor a functioning brain when turn of events bring up red flags. For a pair of detectives, it is most frustrating that they lack common sense.

The diamond in the rough is “Safe Haven,” written by Timo Tjahjanto and and Gareth Evans. It involves a documentary crew interviewing a leader of a cult (Epy Kusnandar). The latter is convinced that it would be a good idea for the filmmakers to be invited into the very private community, who believe they are on a journey to immortality, so that they can capture the truth and show the world that their faith is good and pure.

I watched the segment in complete fascination. Its turn of events reminded me of off-the-wall Japanese horror–the willingness and the energy to be creative and entertain. For twenty minutes, I experienced a spectrum of emotion, from being tickled by the greenness of the crew to horrified by what is being shown on screen. Yes, it gets violent and bloody but there is a method in the way it builds from serenity to convulsing madness. I could not help but wonder what Tjahjanto and Evans can do if they were given an hour and a half or so to develop their characters and helm the thematic elements.

Solid work can be found in Adam Wingard’s “Phase I Clinical Trials.” It tells the story of a man, played by Wingard, who has just received a prosthetic eye that records every single thing he sees or does. Though it grants him the gift of sight, there is a catch. The premise is similar to Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang’s “Gin gwai,” which makes it somewhat predictable, but there is a freshness in the way it takes its time to build. The extra beat or two of delay prior to the jolt matters when the mood is tense.

The two remaining segments, Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park” and Jason Eisner’s “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” are more comedic than thrilling or scary, but they have their moments, too. It is an excellent decision to sandwich them between more serious work in order to prevent the mood and tone to go stale.

I enjoyed “V/H/S/2” because each part is able to offer something different to the table. While one or two of them is not great work by any means, as a whole it is a much brighter and more memorable compilation than its predecessor. Unlike the egregious “V/H/S,” there is not one segment here that comes off as an affront to the art of filmmaking. You get the feeling that this time the writers and directors strive to make something they can be proud of.