We’ve tackled the homage/ripoff conundrum here many times before and the consensus usually is that if your movie is legitimately entertaining, you can basically get away with blatant thievery of the most blatant sort.
It’s a good thing, then, that Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto movies are generally of a high quality considering that the majority of his output has plundered the work of such peers as Gareth Evans with eye-poppingly violent martial art epics such as Headshot and The Night Comes For Us and, in the case of May The Devil Take You, the kinetic sadism of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies.
Tjahjanto isn’t even particularly subtle with his influences either, but it’s amazing how much slack you’re willing to give a filmmaker when their love of someone else’s work turns up something so much fun.
After obtaining great wealth seemingly out of nowhere and then abruptly going bankrupt barely over a decade later, entrepreneur Lesmana Wijaya clings to life after being nailed by a mysterious, life threatening illness. To make matters all the more awkward, his estranged daughter from his first marriage, Alfie, has come to visit him despite still being bitter after the suicide of her mother and the resentment she has for his second wife, retired actress Laksmi, still burns brightly. That resentment doesn’t carry over to Lesmana’s other children, however, but even through Alfie bonds with eldest son Ruben and youngest daughter Nara, middle child Maya has become angst ridden and distrustful since the news of bankruptcy broke.
However, relations are put under some noticable strain when all involved head over to Lesmana’s abandoned family villa to see if there’s any valuables to sell and Alfie and Laksmi’s emotions finally boil over as years of bitterness come to a head.
However, the in-fighting gets taken up a notch when the sealed door to the basement is prised open releasing a malevolent demonic spirit that’s been imprisoned there for years. Yep, it seems that Lesmana amassed his fortune the old, old fashioned way – by making a deal during a Satanic ritual and then welching on the payment – which causes this severely pissed off supernatural force to possess Laksmi and in turn attack her family. Temporarily stopped thanks to a hammer embedded in her forehead, Laksmi retreats out into the driving rain and the remaining step-siblings have to try and band together if they’re going to survive this ordeal.
However, as the exact details of Lesmana’s devilish deal come to light, Alfie starts to realise that this also might have something to do with her mother’s suicide, but to put the pieces together, she’s going to have to fight off demons, weather the brutilizing effects of a voodoo doll and fend off a step-sibling who’s paranoia has just gotten a demonic boost.
Tjahjanto obviously isn’t shy about showing off the influences of May The Devil Take You, in fact, the director wears his heart on his sleeve to such an extent that it tough not to feel a warm glow despite all of the slimy, twisted carnage that’s occuring in screen, however, there are times when the film veers into more of a Sam Raimi showcase than it probably should. Those unfamiliar with the various set pieces found within the the first two Evil Dead movies will be blissfully unaware, but Tjahjanto pilfers so much, you start to worry that Raimi’s lawyers may descend on the set at any minute at the speed of those whizzing, POV shots the franchise is famous for. As we tick off the boxes of Deadite Bingo, the movie gives us creepily jaunty, old-time music on the soundtrack, a scene where items in a room come alive while a character steadily loses their mind, a victim of demonic possession hovering two feet from the ground and even cellar based she-demons. But Tjahjanto doesn’t stop there and even goes beyond the original Evil Dead films by giving May The Devil Take You the same, gritty-yet-polished vibe of the Evil Dead remake and even has time to steal the climatic open grave scene from Raimi’s other demon extravaganza, Drag Me To Hell.
While fun for an avid reader of the Book Of The Dead like myself, all this Raimi-worship make the movie in danger of not having it’s own identity, but thankfully Tjahjanto does have some ideas of his own, miring this tale of supernatural slaughter in a feuding family having their fears and paranoia play out on a supernatural stage due to the past sins of their father figure. As he’s played by Ray Sahetapy, the hammer wielding crime boss from The Raid, it’s obvious that there’s something about Lesmana that seems a little shifty, but having him kick start all this horror by roping Satan into his little get rich quick scheme is somewhat inspired, giving his inevitable fall a Bernie Madoff meets Faust kind of deal. The fact that it’s his children that has to clear up his mess (and believe me, it gets real messy), also adds a nice spin to the familiar action, heightening the tension between Lesmana’s current, more entitled family and Alfie’s bitter outsider. Watch as Maya, already panicked due to her family hurtling towards bankruptcy, turns on her step-sister while being stalked by a possesed Laksmi in a torrential rainstorm.
The gore, usually a high point of Evil Dead rip-off, is oddly restrained when compared to the jaw-dropping brutality of Tjahjanto’s later action brutality-fest The Night Comes For Us, but there’s still plenty to get your teeth into with a startling decapitation-by-voodoo doll and a cringe inducing moment when the hair ingested by a character years before (a key component to Indonesian devil worship, apparently) suddenly squirms out of their gullet like a hairy tendril to squeeze the life out of them. The scares are solid, the creeps are… well, creepy and lead Chelsea Islan withstands the muck, grue and emotional trauma like a champ, nicely following up similar gruelling performances experienced by Bruce Campbell, Jane Levy and Alison Lohman who now exactly what it’s like to head up a movie like this.
While it was hardly going to set the world on fire in matters of originality, May The Devil Take You does just enough to rise above Tjahjanto’s shameless fanboying and present a familiar tale with an Indonesian twist that contains all the possession and blood that you’d want from an Evil Dead adjacent adventure.
May the deja vu take you.