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John’s Horror Corner: May the Devil Take You (2018; aka Sebelum Iblis Menjemput), Evil Dead goes to Indonesia.

December 22, 2018

MY CALL: Essentially, this is an Indonesian Evil Dead with plenty of Asian “hair horror” and magical curse motifs. It’s not as intense, gory or violent as I’d hoped, but it remained entertaining enough. MOVIES LIKE May the Devil Take You: Evil Dead (2013) and the Colombian Evil Dead: The Damned (2013).

A frightened family man (Ray Sahetapy; The Raid: Redemption) nervously welcomes some sort of witch into his home to engage in an obviously occult ritual as she grumbles semi-possessed guttural incantations to bring him wealth. This film instantly immerses us in tension and we have no illusions that some spiritually foul misdeed has been conducted in this world rich with dark arts. Years later, he suddenly declares bankruptcy and falls into a coma, leaving his now adult children with many questions.

Seeking answers regarding her father’s condition, Alfie (Chelsea Islan; Headshot) returns to the long-abandoned house were the arcane rites were conducted in the now nailed-shut cellar. Alfie’s stepsiblings Ruben, Maya and Nara come along to the old house, which is conveniently isolated in the jungle—like a lonely cabin in the woods.

By design, this film will toy with you at first. There are momentary images of ghostly forms, some so brief you’d miss them with a blink. The special effects are decent, and a bit gory. We get a healthy dose of classic Asian demon-witch imagery, along with deadly Asian demon hair. But even more familiar is how we wander deep into Evil Dead (2013) territory with graphic black blood vomited into faces, wall-crawling and hovering, demands for fresh souls, and infectious snaggle-toothed bites. In classic Evil Dead (2013) fashion, once possessed our spastically kooky demons spit up black bile and bite like zombies. And like the classic, a demon lurks in the cellar and evil preys on our human sympathy for loved ones.

My greatest criticism would be that once the Sam Raimi-inspired infection is revealed, it’s more like it’s trying to duplicate some aspects of Evil Dead (1981, 1987, 2013), rather than using it as inspiration. The muddy finale, all the black gooey regurgitant, the locality, and the taxidermized tiger were among such aspects. But this film has other things going for it—not relying entirely on Raimi’s foundation—including the obvious Asian horror motifs.

Writer/director Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes for Us, Headshot, ABCs of Death, V/H/S 2) has made a respectable horror film. There is no comparison to the intensity of The Night Comes for Us (2018) or the films of Rob Zombie or Alexandre Aja, but the violence is still at least moderate. We see horror drags with fingernails brutally torn asunder, people forced to kill possessed loved ones, some nasty bone-breaking use of a Voodoo doll, and there’s a mean face-tearing scene.

Despite all this, I was never really surprised, scared (not even by a jump scare), tense or impressed. This is an entertaining movie, but I was largely underwhelmed. However, the mixture of Raimi influence and classic Asian horror themes leaves me willing to recommend this anyway. I may not have been impressed, but I was always wondering what was going to happen next.

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