The Night Comes for Us is a brutal, relentless, gory Indonesian action movie that will either leave you numb or pummel you senseless trying to get you there. Much like The Raid and The Raid 2, scenes exist to see characters maul, stab, shoot, and beat each other to a bloody pulp. It’s a real gas.
Timo Tjahjanto is a name that is familiar to horror fans. His roots in the genre bleed over, literally, into The Night Comes for Us as the violence is a squirmish visceral quality. When someone gets hurt in a fight, I felt it. However, Tjahjanto hasn’t made an action movie so much as a body horror movie with bone-crunching action.
After a fight, the set is often smeared with blood and viscera and littered with dismembered bodies of the fallen. Tjahjanto, who also co-wrote the script, lays out a thin veneer of the story to connect the scenes, but it is easily pierced like his characters’ bodies. But yet, Tjahjanto fuels the movie with a sense of inescapable fate. “The Night,” or call it what it is, death, comes for everybody, and you can either rush into the abyss or run away-and running does you no good because it will always find you.
Roughly speaking, the plot is relatively simple but effective. It concerns the Six Seas, members of the Triad who are the enforcers and overseers of the organizations sprawling sinister operations. Ito (Joe Taslim) and his mean massacre a small fishing village for daring to steal drugs from the Triad and try to make money for themselves. We later learn it’s not that they stole but that they stole just a little too much.
Ito, one of the Six Seas, realizes that death follows him. So when a little girl, Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez), survives and sees her parents gunned down before her, Ito has a crisis of conscience. He kills his men, takes the girl, and runs. But, of course, The Triad can not let this stand, so the bodies begin hitting the floor.
Taslim’s Ito, as written, is not that deep of a character. But Tjahjanto wisely uses this to great effect. The Night Comes for Us is a story told visually. The drama and emotions are written on the page so much as on the faces of the actors. On Taslim’s face is written anguish, regret, great inner conflict, and understanding of what he must do.
Ito decides to round up the old gang Faith (Abimana Aryasatya), White Boy Bobby Blue (Zack Lee), and Wisnu (Dimas Anggara) to help him and Reina. To say that they are outnumbered is a comical understatement. Ito and his friends go up against a literal army of men to the point I began to feel bad for both sides, simply because it appeared that the life of a Triad member was plain exhausting.
The Night Comes for Us is evocative in a way that can be tiring, but that’s by design. Tjahjanto’s blood-soaked exercise in stoicism is brutally visceral. We see the impalements, but thanks to Gunnar Nimpuno’s camera, we feel them as well. Nimpuno’s camera is acrobatic as it swings effortlessly from objective to subjective, allowing us to see the scene’s geography before slamming us into a character’s point of view and making the violence palpable.
At times Nimpuno’s camera glides into sheer Point of View shots, ala something like Hardcore Henry, but only for a brief second. He and Tjahjanto throw us into the action, giving us a sense of the physical and robbing us of the safety of distance. Nimpuno’s kinetic and unforgiving camera is a significant part of the aura of relentlessness that The Night Comes for Us sweats through its frames.
Quite honestly, relentless is the most accurate adjective when describing anything about The Night Comes for Us. Tjahjanto understands this as he gives us breathers between fights under the guise of drama before plunging us back into another grisly doomed match-up. But even if these moments are merely mechanical in letting the audience catch their breath, Taslim and the others utilize them and give them more heft than the moments possibly deserve.
Tjahjanto’s script gives us just enough story that the story practically propels itself. Chien Wu (Sunny Pang) calls Arian (Iko Uwais) to take Ito and his gang down. Arian and Ito were once friends and partners in crime until Ito became one of the Six Seas. Now Arian is offered Ito’s job, something he has always wanted. So Chien Wu sends Arian on his way, accompanied by two merciless lesbian henchmen, Alma (Dian Sastrowardoyo) and Elena (Hannah Al Rashid).
Elena is a devil with a sword, and Alma has a wire yo-yo that brought back memories of a film I watched many years ago called Yo-yo Girl Cop, which never lived up to its title. Suffice to say, The Night Comes for Us has much more fun with a yo-yo. The two disembowel their way through the body count only to end in a blowout with a woman with no name but credited as The Operator (Julie Estelle). She’s a mysterious ally who shows up to help maybe or kill Ito, but after seeing Reina, she decides to put her mission on hold and help take down the people trying to kill her.
Codes of honor and brotherhood are shattered, rebuilt, and blown up as the characters kick and squirt their way through one mob or obstacle course after another. All the while, Tjahjanto drubs us into surrendering to the movie. If I have a complaint, while I have favorite fight scenes, The Night Comes for Us left me in such a fugue state that it’s hard to pick them out of the haze of pink mist.
It’s a mild complaint, though, and a necessary side-effect of what Tjahjanto is going for. A scene in a butcher shop that doubles as a Triad bank highlight Tjahjanto’s visual sense of humor. Ito butchering the butchers in the butcher shop is grisly hilarious and sets the stage for the kind of movie The Night Comes for Us will be.
The philosophical undercurrent of the movie may not be that deep, but the current is strong. What makes The Night Comes for Us compelling besides the camerawork and the onslaught of violent action is the way Tjhanjanto imbues the film with a sense of fatalism. “You can’t kill what’s already dead.” But it would be a mistake to think it is nihilism.
Reina may be a small part and mainly catalyze Ito into realizing he has traveled too far down the wrong path, but her presence is a reminder. Ito wants to save Reina, not from death; no one can escape that. But he wishes to save Reina from meaningless death.
The Night Comes for Us is violent in a way meant to disturb. It highlights how resilient and fragile our bodies are. Tjahjanto, like David Cronenberg, is fascinated not just by violence but our need to participate in it despite how easily damaged we are by it. Despite its gore and its stomach-churning brutality, there is a fog of humanism percolating inside every frame. Perhaps that is why it proves so hard to watch at times.
Images courtesy of Netflix
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