Indonesian rising filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto’s supernatural horror is full of the main thing you want from this genre: genuine scares. Whilst there’s nothing new or original about May The Devil Take You, we’re treated (if you can call it that) to a host of nerve-shredding, arm-chair squeezing, eye squinting moments and hardly get time to breath. Move over studio horrors, here’s how you really scare an audience whilst retreading old tropes.
The set up sees a father make some kind of deal with the devil in exchange for a wealth of fortune. Years later, he is taken ill and his daughter Alfie (great name), who cut ties with him after he remarried 10 years prior, must visit his old house where, unknown to her, the deal took place. Joined by her half siblings and step mother, they all look through the house for anything valuable or helpful to his illness. There’s a door bolted up leading to the basement, so obviously they bust it open to have a look. The plot really doesn’t go anywhere else once this happens which holds it back from becoming something truly unique, which is a shame as its greatest hits of horror cliches are all executed brilliantly.
In the build up, we get creepy figures out of shot that may or may not be your eyes playing tricks on you. This leads to the first horror moment within the hospital, which sets up an ambush of strong and authentically scary supernatural set pieces. The beauty of it is partly down to it coming out of nowhere, and once it begins, it wastes no time digging its claws in and cranking up then tension at an alarming rate. Thankfully we don’t have to wait too long for this to continue as the aforementioned basement door opens and an onslaught of chaos hits us.
There’s plenty of ways to pull off scaring an audience. Quiet and suspenseful. Loud and gory. Atmospheric. Instead of picking one, May The Devil Take You puts all of these concepts into a mixer and uses them whenever it feels like it. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it works. One of the key reasons it does is how it fully embraces the horror aspect and really doesn’t slow down. We may lose out on character development, but due to not letting the audience ever truly relax, we are successfully scared for long periods.
While it may seem there’s nothing else of merit within, plaudits should go to Chelsea Islan and Pevita Pearce who play half sisters Alfie and Maya. Both get the most development and really go with their characters’ fears and anxieties as the plot moves along. The reason we don’t laugh at these teens in danger is because you are totally invested in the horror they’re being subjected too and believe they are terrified.
May The Devil Take You really is as simple as its basic premise but doesn’t fail at being anything less. Some great acting really manages to sell the concept, even when it wanders into the realm of ridiculousness. The biggest strength is undoubtedly it’s unrelenting barrage of horror which includes one of the scariest scenes I’ve seen ever. It’s filmed magnificently and is so simply executed you’re scared before it even fully begins. A real surprise, but not one for the feint of heart.