Hallow-vent - Day 25: May the Devil Take You

We love Halloween here at The DreamCage and we love the countdown to it even more as, every day in October, David Ames opens a window (well, writes an article) in his Hallow-vent Calendar of Asian horror films. His choice for Day 25 of Hallow-vent is
May the Devil Take You...

Find the full calendar for Hallow-vent 2020 here.

It’s that time of year again: the birds are chirping, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s a pandemic raging. All of these elements come together to make a fantastic holiday season, full of candy, and popcorn, and gory, bloody, creepy films that cause existential crises and fits of catatonia. 

This year I am looking at a subgenre of horror that, although it is centralized to a continent, is very diverse in subject matter and approach: Asian horror. I LOVE Asian horror. It may be that the original Ringu played an important part in my young life, causing me to be both fascinated and horrified by this type of horror. 

While I was used to American horror movies, particularly slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, I was not prepared for the sheer amount of difference between American and Asian approaches to horror. While most of what I had seen of American horror dealt with blood, gore, murder, and a substantial amount of nudity and sexual content (my 12-14-year-old self was always appreciative), Asian horror was much more subtle and disturbing. 

Maybe it was the newness and disconnection of the culture. Maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe it was the seeming focus on folklore that wasn’t present in the west’s presentation (at least from my limited experience), but from the moment I saw Ringu, I was hooked. 

This year I wanted to approach Asian horror that was not as famous as those I had seen previously and so I chose movies that I had never seen, or even heard of for the most part. There is only one film on the list that I was familiar with beforehand, and I hadn’t watched that since high school. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange mix of subtlety, disturbing imagery, and slow-burn that is this year’s Hallow-vent calendar.

As we have talked about in previous years, and even earlier in this year’s calendar, I am a huge fan of exorcism and possession movies. The prospect of being denied use of your own body by an evil entity is fascinating. Also, being brought up Christian has the larger impact of demonic possession as a terrifying concept. That was why I sat down today and tuned into another Indonesian horror film from director Timo Tjahjanto: 2018’s May the Devil Take You.

The basic premise of this film is that a man makes a Faustian bargain with the devil in exchange for untold wealth. He also seemingly offers his wives and children to ensure that this deal is forged. He became wealthy, but squandered it all, not learning his lesson about vice, in a very “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” sort of way, and slunk into bankruptcy.

Ten years later, we are introduced to Alfie, the only legitimate daughter, who is sullen, and operates as a pickpocket on public transport. When she receives a call from her stepsiblings about her father’s failing health, she goes to the hospital, and sees his strange, undiagnosable illness, complete with skin boils, legions, and consumption-level blood vomiting.

After a strange encounter with a demonic woman, and a run-in with her (basically) evil, golddigging step-mother, Alfie heads to her childhood home to see what she can find and to discuss selling the property. Her step family also arrives, and although she has no hostility toward her sisters and brother, the animosity between herself and her step-mother is palpable almost instantly.

Throughout the course of the film, we learn more about the deal made, and what the repercussions will be for the remaining family, as they battle the devil and his hold on the house, and the current inhabitants. They all must work together to solve the problem and find a way out of the deal made on their behalf.

This film had promise. I mean, real promise. The first forty minutes or so showed us a chance at a serious horror film, with a basis on the shortcomings of extended familial relationships and trying to repair those bonds. The look of the film is stylish but not overwrought, and at first, with the focus being on the character development, and the horror elements utilizing a powerful but secondary role, I thought I would see something in the vein of The Haunting of Hill House.

Oh, how I was mistaken.

While the exposition is great, the film really begins to go off the rails, and it appears that the director traded actual horror and good plot/character development for clichéd horror tropes and a drop-off in pace and consistency. The film goes from offering something interesting, to becoming a Sam Raimi rip-off.

And let’s really hammer that point home. One instance looks like an homage, two like a tribute, but the amount of scenes from this film that felt like they were straight stolen from The Evil Dead or Drag Me to Hell made me think I would read about a copyright infringement lawsuit from Raimi himself.

That is to say that the film isn’t necessarily bad. I enjoyed a lot of elements here, mainly because I am such a fan of the genre. It is just that the beginning promised something that the rest of the film couldn’t deliver. It was damn near film non sequitur.

The brightest point of the film, besides the overall quality of the filming, was the actual use of practical effects, including amazing makeup, and an especially awesome scene of someone literally pulling their own face off. I do have to say that if one more person threw up blood into another person’s mouth, I was just going to call Sam Raimi and congratulate him on his work.

Tjahjanto has some serious talent, but I feel like this script could have used another look over. There is no reason for the exorbitant runtime considering where the film goes. His previous work, especially his scene in V/H/S/2, and the perfectly violent Macabre, is wonderfully gory and fun, and even here we can see that he has the makings of a horror great. This one just fell a little short.

***Also, side note here: it appears that an even Sam Raimi-er sequel of the film exists on Shudder.***

Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes

Image - IMDb

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