The prude jumped out! As much a fan of horror movies as I am generally impervious to their scare tactics, there remains only so much I can take. Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto, at the crest of that country's wave of new filmmaking talent, would be a bona fide candidate for Hollywood crossover some time soon were he not making Hollywood-standard films on home turf. May the Devil Take You is a commendable platform for his talents, marrying the lack of necessity of a hefty budget in order to craft a convincing horror movie with the evident hefty budget he's been afforded here. This is, perhaps, the Indonesian film industry's equivalent of last year's It, only so outre as to make any possibility of its inevitable (and inevitably redundant) American remake occupying a similar position in that nation's industry slate a near-impossibility.
In Lucifer's name is this film terrifying! Tjahjanto toys with his audience before revealing his true intentions, deploying motifs familiar to us from horror works of the 1980s, mixing style, tone and mythology from either side of the Pacific, the mixed signals eventually coalescing into a kind of Evil Dead pastiche before tunneling further into demonic depravity than Sam Raimi ever dared. Tjahjanto doesn't lack a light touch, though, sourcing a healthy amount of humour to offset the horror; his appreciation of horror tropes and his command of the techniques involved in exacting them is all a part of playing with the viewer's sense of anticipation. In this, May the Devil Take You is a strong, if somewhat unremarkable horror movie; where Tjahjanto succeeds, he does so with aplomb, and where he (less frequently) fails, it's only barely to the movie's detriment. Where he lost me was with a particular scene so vicious I could hardly stand to watch anything else, and the final 15 minutes or so thus felt like 15 hours. A fairly responsive, packed press room fell eerily silent, and emerged in something of a stupor.
It occurs to me now that all four of my first four titles from the 2018 LFF selection have been tales of troubled family units, each in distinct ways: Wildlife a portrait of a small American family crumbling under the parents' respective irresponsibilities, Diary of My Mind an investigation into the psyche of a teenager who has just murdered his parents, May the Devil Take You a tale of a father's reckless arrogance and the literal chaos it wreaks on his loved (or not-so-loved) ones, and Last Child an examination of grief in the wake of a child's death, and the difficulties of moving on in the face of unexpected provocation.
Shin Dong Seok's feature-length debut doesn't tread any new ground in its depiction of a story that's been told countless times in international cinema, not in the stylistic mundanity with which it approaches it, nor in its use of thriller-adjacent elements to enliven a narrative that initially hints at becoming increasingly moribund. Last Child never resolves whether it's exploiting contrivance for its dramatic potential or it's sincerely dealing in contrivance as a legitimate device; whatever the case, even its most forceful narrative shifts are easily predicted. Yet Shin puts this all to fine use, eliciting excellent performances from his talented cast, literally papering over the problems in the film's construction. If it lacks much discernible purpose as a work of art, it's arguably supplied with one via their contributions - Last Child's most persuasive qualities are eked out in their work, subtle inquiries into the nature of human behaviour and the development of close relationships during psychological trauma. It's a soap melodrama on solemn terms, a contradiction that makes for a somewhat dissatisfying proposal.
Both titles screen next month at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival. Check back daily for more reviews of the 2018 selection.