Earlier this month, the 2020 Nightstream Film Festival offered up genre fans a ton of amazing online offerings to enjoy throughout its four-day festivities. Here’s a look at two of the films I had the opportunity to watch during Nightstream: May the Devil Take You Too from Timo Tjahjanto (which hits Shudder soon) and Jesse Blanchard’s puppet splatterfest, Frank & Zed.
May the Devil Take You Too: Two years ago, Timo Tjahjanto unleashed May the Devil Take You, his demonic thrill ride pitting a young woman named Alfie (Chelsea Islan) and her step-family against sinister forces that want nothing more than to claim their souls. Now, Tjahjanto is back with his follow-up effort, May the Devil Take You Too, which feels slightly more ambitious and polished than its predecessor, and once again evokes a Raimi-esque sense of banana pants filmmaking that delivers up a ton of devilishly fun gore and violence.
May the Devil Take You Too catches up with Alfie two years after the events of the first film, as she’s now responsible for taking care of her young step-sister Nara (Hadijah Shahab) and is doing her best to put the past behind her. But after they are both kidnapped by a mysterious group and taken to an abandoned orphanage, they reveal to the siblings that they all grew up at the locale and were subjected to a ton of trauma and horrific events. As it turns out, their reasoning for bringing Alfie to their former home has a connection to her prior experiences, and before they all know it, the proverbial shit hits the demon-fueled fan, and chaos ensues.
There’s a clear sense of growth in Tjahjanto’s directorial style between the first May the Devil Take You and its sequel, and while I definitely enjoyed the original film, the follow-up just totally goes balls to the wall with a reckless abandon, and I had a blast with what he does here. That being said, there’s still a great deal of finesse to Tjahjanto’s filmmaking as a whole, and the immersive and energetic cinematography from Gunnar Nimpuno does a great job putting viewers squarely in the middle of the action. We get a lot of expected supernatural/horror beats in May the Devil Take You Too—a creepy locale, a disturbing backstory, possessed entities defying the laws of physics, items violently being hurled about, and a number of gnarly deaths to boot.
But the way Tjahjanto is able to utilize these elements and do something very different in the sequel proves he’s truly one of the most exciting filmmakers in this modern era of genre storytelling. His passion for the genre shines through here, and the way he’s able to set up this buffet of bloodcurdling thrills and chills is nothing short of impressive.
Islan is once again front and center in May the Devil Take You Too, and the way Alfie goes from being someone who has a weariness to her, because of all that she has been forced to endure, to a true woman of power is highly enjoyable. Islan’s performance has a vigorous sense of determination to it and Tjahjanto puts her (and pretty much everyone, really) through the wringer here. And even though the actress is great throughout the whole film, she’s particularly compelling during the sequel’s gonzo third act where Alfie really has to step things up in some big ways.
As someone who’s been a big fan of Tjahjanto’s filmic output for years now, I had a ton of fun with May the Devil Take You Too, and the way he infuses all his action sensibilities into these intricate horror set pieces is quite impressive. There may be an air of familiarity to certain aspects of this sequel, but make no mistake, what Tjahjanto does here is purely all him, and him alone.
Movie Score: 4/5
Frank & Zed: A true passion project that was seven years in the making, Jesse Blanchard’s Frank & Zed is an absolutely marvelous achievement in puppet-centric filmmaking that feels like the wonderfully bizarre love child of Jim Henson and horror director Peter Jackson (not Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson). And not only is the puppetry on display truly impressive, but Blanchard manages to pack in a ton of practical gore effects as well, which only amp things up here even more.
The story for Frank & Zed is a pretty straightforward setup: the titular characters, who happen to be a Frankenstein-like monster and a brain-hungry zombie, are living their best life away from the rest of society in their castle. Meanwhile, the nearby village’s king has got himself a huge problem: 200 years prior, he summoned a demonic entity in order to destroy his enemy, and now this God of Death is ready to collect on his debt and fulfill the prophecy that has been foretold involving an “Orgy of Blood.” This results in a huge conflict that brings hordes of angry villagers to Frank and Zed’s doorstep, and it’s up to the lovable monstrosities to defend their abode before these humans can get the best of them.
As someone who grew up loving properties like The Muppets, Sesame Street, or even Fraggle Rock and Dinosaurs (which were just larger fabricated characters with a sense of humanity to them), Frank & Zed hit that proverbial sweet spot for me when it came to watching these monstrously lovable characters battling it out against these horrible humans who only want to do them harm. What’s even more remarkable about Frank and Zed is that they never speak in the film, either. Their sense of communication comes from within, and despite a lack of dialogue between them, you immediately get a sense of their camaraderie and total devotion to each other. Honestly, I was totally enamored by them here and the design work that Blanchard and company put into creating them is wholly impressive.
While the ambitious puppetry that went into making the film is one of Frank & Zed’s biggest assets, the meticulous production design is also incredible as well, and I must admit I’ve never really seen a movie that mixes practical gore effects and puppets the way that Blanchard does here. And we’re not talking about a decapitation or losing a limb here or there—at some points, there are geysers of gooey goodness spewing about, and it is glorious to behold.
I do feel like Frank & Zed works best when it stays focused on its main characters, as the movie’s momentum tends to slow down just a smidge whenever we leave them and focus on the human characters. But as a whole, the level of ingenuity and commitment that went into making Frank & Zed is truly a feat of filmmaking magic. I absolutely had a blast with this monumentally bold gorefest, and I suspect many other horror fans will as well.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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