The concept of inherited sin is by no means new territory for the horror genre. With numerous filmmakers utilising the idea within the current socio-political climate, it can be used to devastating effect when handled correctly. May The Devil Take You, the latest foray into the scene from rising Indonesian writer/director Timo Tjahjanto, dismisses any possible room for innovation or originality in favour of a well-worn formula that soon becomes exhausting to watch.
In a state of infinite predictability, Alfie (Chelsea Islan) is summoned to her father’s deathbed, the once rich Lesmana (The Raid’s Ray Sahetapy), whereupon she encounters her vaudeville-esque stepmother and stepsiblings. With animosity between the two sides of the family apparent, Alfie returns to her childhood home, one of her father’s last remaining assets that lies in her name, whilst Alfie’s stepmother Laksmi (Karina Suwandhi) also brings her family to the house with the intent to lay claim to any money they should find. It soon becomes apparent that Lesmana’s fame and fortune was the result of a deal with The Priestess, a concubine of Satan, and the family shall now pay for the transgressions of Lesmana with ‘their souls’.
“A pastiche of horror tropes that prior films have simply done better.”
And so the stage is set with an itinerary of horror clichés: a self-loathing protagonist who despises her money-orientated stepfamily, a decrepit old house that houses demonic forces in the basement, a locked door that helms the threshold of discovery, and so forth. Instead of delving into the psychological aspects of such inherited sin and trauma, May The Devil Take You removes any nuanced storytelling in favour of unsettling imagery and a frenetic pace that quickly becomes tiresome. The attempt at characterisation teeters on comical, with sepia-toned flashbacks so abhorrently executed they provide disjointed laughs rather than introspective depth. In the absence of any interesting backstory to the characters, it’s no wonder the cast resorts to over-acting.
As such, May The Devil Take You portrays itself as a Blumhouse-era horror that overly relies on jumpscares and scare-a-minute tactics, albeit with a ramped up chaotic goriness. It’s these moments of macabre that best demonstrate Timo Tjahanto’s visionary capabilities, pushing existing formulas to the absolute limits. Whilst the make-up and effects departments certainly earn their due, the unsettling and terror-inducing imagery loses all appeal after the umpteenth iteration of demonic possessions jumping out from behind closed doors. With almost no risks taken with plot, May The Devil Take You resolves to become a pastiche of horror tropes that prior films have simply done better.
May The Devil Take You is by no means a complete failure for the genre. Whilst uninspired and heavily reliant on tropes used all too frequently, Timo Tjahanto conjures some truly unsettling scenes when allowed to wreak havoc with a gory intensity. Hyper-visual elements set the film apart from western counterparts, and the frenzied pacing provides breakneck scares, even if they are more miss than hit. May The Devil Take You will undoubtedly find a home in the hazed-out dorms of students demanding a late-night thrill, but provides little more than comedic appeal and nothing to define it from more innovative peers.