Timo Tjahjanto has released two new films on Netflix this year: May the Devil Take You, an Indonesian twist on The Evil Dead, and The Night Comes for Us, the first ever Indonesian film produced by Netflix. The Night Comes for Us is Tjahjanto’s latest stroll through the action genre after his previous film, Headshot, co-directed with Kimo Stamboel (who returns as a producer on this film). The film also reunites many of the same cast members, notably Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle and Sunny Pang. Headshot, owing in part to its cast and cultural background, received countless comparisons to The Raid and its sequel. I thought the comparisons were somewhat unfair; stylistically, The Mo Brothers were paying homage to classic Hong Kong cinema, with its sweeping melodrama and penchant for kung-fu poses, filtered through their own Indonesian sensibilities—qualities most explicitly embodied in Chelsea Islan and Sunny Pang’s wildly different yet endearing performances.
With The Night Comes for Us, however, The Mo Brothers have produced the film critics and audiences claimed they were attempting with Headshot: a relentless, exhausting, and extremely violent beat ’em up that recalls the bone-crunching symphony of Gareth Evans’ work, most explicitly the sprawling crime epic of The Raid 2.
It’s a comparison that does Tjahjanto’s film few favors. Much like the script for May the Devil Take You, the world building in this film is flimsy, the characterizations are muddy and the drama is underdeveloped. Tjahjanto’s talents are not with a pen. His scripts are largely functional but threadbare genre exercises, providing all the necessary ingredients for his visual imagination but sometimes failing to convincingly move the narrative from Point A to Point B. And after these two Netflix films, he really needs to add a few new tricks to his bag; both feature characters being rendered unconscious as a way of moving the plot, multiple times in the case of May the Devil Take You, and the effect is dispiriting. You can literally see Tjahjanto struggling to write himself out of a corner.
The film’s biggest problem is structural, as a bloated middle section grinds the story to a halt. The action continues unabated, but it reaches the point of being misguided. Given the lack of character work, the film spends an inordinate amount of time following the gory martial arts exploits of the supporting cast. Tjahjanto attempts to juggle multiple plot threads here, breaking up the action into discrete blocks of time centered around each character, which makes sense when, for example, Ito (Joe Taslim) has been captured in the back of a police van while his allies attempt to protect Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez) from the Triad. But it makes less sense when he breaks the action in the apartment into such pieces, and cuts between all of these threads, while also establishing two new antagonists. The pacing is haphazard, and the sequence of events in the apartment becomes incoherent. And it just goes on, and on, and on.
But once again, Tjahjanto excels with a camera. Even at its worst, The Night Comes for Us continually provides visual riches. The middle section is inconsistent but packs many surprises, from jaw-dropping stunts and camerawork—a chase sequence in a car park features some particularly stunning moments—to stylish twists, most notably Arian’s (Iko Uwais) eleventh hour arrival, underscored with a fantastic soundtrack. The film may want for a better script, but it boasts nearly enough style to make up for what it lacks. An early fight scene in a meat locker is a standout moment, setting the tone with some clever choreography and shocking gore. And while the film stumbles as it builds, it eventually soars through the final stretches.
The final thirty minutes of this film is the peak of Tjahjanto’s career so far. The fight between Ito and Arian is beautifully paced, the kind of brawl that goes on and on but in a good way, with peaks and valleys and smart choreography that builds on previous sections. As the fight gets increasingly more bloody and desperate, the performers up the ante on their stunts, and Tjahjanto pulls the camera back to capture the painful crashes and tumbles in wider angles. There’s even a bit of levity, with a great gag involving a steel support beam.
But the highlight just might be the previous scene, a two-on-one martial arts showdown between The Operator (Julie Estelle), who has agreed to help protect Reina, and two female assassins. The combatants wield multiple weapons, the choreography is fast and sophisticated, and Tjahjanto’s camera is a tornado that somehow never loses focus, creating one of the most blistering and exciting action scenes of the year. And this sequence literally builds on previous ones, as the combatants work their way back through a hallway where The Operator previously dispatched some faceless goons, tripping over the dead bodies as they struggle desperately to kill one another. Give me a sequel focusing on The Operator, because Estelle is incredible and this scene is pure hype.
Overall, The Night Comes for Us is an inventive and entertaining martial arts splatterfest. The film oozes as much style as it does blood and guts. Tjahjanto is a little more successful with his action films than his horror ones; I’m still waiting for him to smash these sensibilities together, and he has a long road ahead when it comes to polishing the writing and editing, but his career is off to a promising start. Far from being in the shadow of The Raid, The Night Comes for Us confidently finds its own voice, and I don’t doubt The Mo Brothers have much more impressive films waiting for us in the future.
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