Timo Tjahjanto brings his maximalist sensibilities to a followup that tries to be several different horror movies at once.
Overflowing with bursting heads and splayed limbs, the sanguine films of Timo Tjahjanto have made him a household name for gorehounds and horror fest devotees for more than a decade. Best known stateside as co-director of the berserk V/H/S/2 segment “Safe Haven” and more recent team-ups with Indonesian superstar, Iko Uwais (Headshot and The Night Comes For Us); Tjahjanto excels in helming maximalist exhibitions – sometimes to the detriment of his storytelling abilities. That’s the case for the overstuffed May the Devil Take You Too, a lunatic magpie of haunted house, possession thriller, J-horror creeper, and occult action movie pieces.
A transposition of the inherited trauma storyline of the first film – May the Devil Take You – to a new “family”, May the Devil Take You Too begins two years later with a return to shellshocked Final Girls, Alfie (a clearly talented but over-directed Chelsea Islan) and Nara (Hadijah Shahab). They’ve moved on from countless news stories about the events at Lensmana’s (Ray Sahetapy) home even as those horrors pervade every waking and sleeping hour. Nearly immediately, a contrived home invasion brings them to a new haunt of Bahtera Orphanage and into the desperation of the six surviving orphans of this hellhole.
Fifteen years after the devilish caretaker’s death, these survivors are tormented by Pak Ayub’s wraith (Tri Hariono), and believe their only salvation is the discredited demon-slayer, Alfie.
Violently nurtured by her recent past, Alfie isn’t a timid hostage as much a rabid dog shrieking for the return of Nara when she’s detained. The captors soon unspool their childhood torments involving Ayub and a connected ritual murder of another orphan to an unfazed Alfie.
Together with the rest of the seven, she’s coaxed to a crawlspace scattered with occult items and a black bible filled with drawings of demonic figures and an inscribed image of the returning The Priestess (Ruth Marini). After some well-intentioned meddling to reverse a curse, the seven soon invoke the vengeance of Ayub, The Priestess, and their benefactor(s).
Often, the first May the Devil Take You played like a hard-R Drag Me To Hell. May the Devil Take You Too then ramps up its scares, gore, and set pieces in a way akin to a hybrid of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead and Sam Raimi’s own Evil Dead II (the use of the latched crawlspace door is a winking nod to the latter). That cuts both ways, as the large cast allows for plenty of gruesome ends including an electrifying bit with a taser and a sequence with a pipe that would be horrifying were it not for the “bonk” sound of each successive swing. But in between those go-for-broke sequences, Tjahjanto and editor Teguh Raharjo sculpt a start-stop, appear-disappear cadence that would benefit from even a line or two of exposition about the nature of their villains.
Evil Dead II comically minced this issue by limiting its agitators to specific parts inside and outside the house or having characters act incredulously about stupid things happening spontaneously (the infamous hand scene). May the Devil Take You Too, instead alternates between front-facing camera shots with charcoal teethed ghouls peeking around walls and confrontations with the possessed who projectile vomit viscera with the texture of Jambalaya.
That chaos is mimed by the camerawork that favors experiential choices like dribbling the frame to follow a character’s head being repeatedly hammered into a concrete floor. That lack of distinction also repeatedly defuses the possible tension and makes these choices less spontaneous than cued to Tjahjanto’s screenplay needs (he’s again the sole writer on this installment).
That lack of distinction also repeatedly defuses the possible tension and makes these choices less spontaneous.
One scene melding a hallucinatory past and clear-eyed present is mostly successful but the flow of the film feels repeatedly disturbed once Alfie takes center stage as an action hero. That turn to a more proactive heroism feels dumb in the best possible way. And yet, it also exposes the inconsistences of Alfie’s character earlier on. Sometimes Islan presents her as someone inured to the ghastly, and other times, she’s prone to trembling that feels out of place. It’s like if The Descent decided to revert Shauna Macdonald’s character to passive after she becomes an avenging banshee.
The overstuffed genre fusion and egregious 110-minute runtime may partly be responsible for these unpleasantly jolting shifts. And some of Alfie’s performances feel more finely tuned to J-horror’s interminable anxiety than the otherwise infectiously gratuitous energy. Compounding that, the film already mines those panicked reactions with those orphans who don’t have any experience with this scenario. In a more effective combo, a set piece involving a corpse sack wriggling out of the frame a la Audition’s signature scene leans into impending dread before climaxing with an appropriately hyperactive end.
May the Devil Take You Too is another feather in the cap of Shudder’s checkered but stacked international lineup this year – Scare Me, The Beach House, La Llorona, Impetigore (the latest from another Indonesian genre mainstay, Joko Anwar) are a grab bag of countries, ideas, and influences. Nonetheless, Tjahjanto overcomplicates the sequel’s perverse genre thrills with too many frills.
May the Devil Take You Too is currently screaming on Shudder.