May the Devil Take You: a mere imitation
I’m not entirely sure what May the Devil Take You is wanting to be. On the one hand, it’s aspiring to be a balls-to-the-wall satanic shocker; on the other hand, it’s trying to be a Blumhouse-esque funfair attraction; sometimes it’s trying to be a throwback horror, with its Carpenter synths; and other times it’s trying to be a campy, gory romp a la Evil Dead. The pity is, it’s not quite as good as any of those things, and, despite the tonal mishmash, comes off as supremely derivative.
Alfie, a student estranged from her property developer father, pays her dad a visit on his death bed. Riddled with a mysterious illness that none of the doctors can diagnose, we know (through flashback) that he’s made a deal with the devil and somebody is going to have to pay the price. Alfie and her step-siblings/mother travel to his remote villa to find more information about his condition, and to see if it’s in a good condition to sell if the unthinkable happens. But, when they get there, they’re almost immediately confronted with a manifestation of evil trapped in the basement.
What follows is a rather disjointed barrage of shocks and jolts, with a generally light (though not as light as, say The Evil Dead 2) tone, and little to hold them together in the way of narrative. From early on, the jump-scares aren’t effective in the slightest, and the constant use of awful, cheap CGI keeps audiences from actually immersing themselves in the story. As for that story, the cliched ‘deal with the devil’ conceit feels done to death (pardon the pun) at this point, and following the smash success of Hereditary, this film feels like a shallow imitation. The story veers from irritatingly basic to incomprehensible, with characters doing things that make no sense (case in point: why wouldn’t they just leave the damn villa?!!?).
There are, it’s got to be said, occasional glimpses of brilliance amidst the clutter. A protracted bed-side sequence featuring a brutal succession of fake-out jump-scares is merciless, prompting waves of nervous laughter across the auditorium. Likewise, the production design and lighting in several of the films quieter moments are a wonderful evocation of the modern chiaroscuro found in 70’s/80’s slasher movies. The sound design, although baiting Stranger Things and It Follows comparisons at several points, is often wonderfully atmospheric and electric.
If anything, to be honest, these scenes made May the Devil Take You feel like even worse of a film. Moments where, say, audiences were able to witness a horrifying visual manifestation of Satan only serve to highlight the lacklustre jump-scares and CGI shocks that populated the previous hour of the film. At times, the piece looks like the minimum possible effort and money went into making it, whereas at others its made clear that the team were trying, which only makes their failure more disappointing.
As you can imagine, this satanic jumble of all-too-obvious influences also translates into an absolute headache in terms of pacing – I was certain the film was about to end around 30mins before it actually was about to end. There’s a point at which May the Devil Take You kind of wraps up, and then starts up again, and keeps going for another 10 minutes whilst the audience look on in exasperation.
At points, Timo Tjahjanto shows promise as an upcoming genre filmmaker, but like his previous movie, Headshot, May the Devil Take You is a mere imitation of much better work by other directors. In a crowded midnight screening, this would be an entertaining crowd-pleaser – perhaps the comedic, slapstick elements of the script would be more evident. But, as a horror fan, this was a mess: too derivative, almost entirely unscary, and totally forgettable.