The Night Comes for Us (2018)
After one massacre too many, Triad enforcer Ito (Joe Taslim) guns down his fellow henchmen and hightails it for Jakarta with the only survivor, a young girl named Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez), in tow. His plan is to rustle up some false passports and disappear into a new life, but his vengeful ex-employers have other ideas and pretty much sic the entire South East Asian criminal diaspora on him, including his former friend Arian (Iko Uwais), now an ambitious triad underling. What ensues is carnage.
That’s CARNAGE, my friends, and yes, the caps are necessary. The Night Comes for Us is easily the goriest action-thriller ever made, with director Timo Tjahjanto, Headshot (2016), combining the furious, exquisitely choreographed action of the Raid movies (of which both Taslim and Uwais are veterans) with the kind of creative gore gags found in your better slasher joints — if you can imagine peak period John Woo and Tom Savini teaming up for a film, you’re in the right ballpark.
The plot is, by necessity, simple, and the characters are deftly sketched and defined more by distinct looks and attitudes, our central pair excepted. Still, there’s a lot packed into The Night Comes for Us, which gives the viewer a sense of a complex and interrelated underworld that exists outside the frame. It’s not a realistic world, mind you: the denizens of this film could blend into the benighted streets of Alex Proyas’ The Crow (1994) or Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) with barely a ripple.
Everyone’s a level boss. There’s Alma (Dian Sastrowardoyo), a garotte-wielding sadistic lesbian assassin and her henchwoman/ lover Elena (Hannah Al Rashid), who butchers mooks with a Nepalese kukri. There’s ‘White Boy’ Bobby (Zack Lee) — a one-legged dude handy with a pocketknife, and loyal beyond all reason (‘White Boy’ Bobby rules, guys). There’s The Operator (Julie Estelle, who you may remember as Hammer Girl in The Raid 2), a motorcycle-riding, submachinegun-firing instrument of retribution who all but steals the film when she shows up and starts dropping bodies.
Which is not to take anything away from Taslim and Uwais, who form the essential binary opposition at the core of the film. As is the way of these things, their relationship is drawn in broad strokes, echoing the operatic, violent bromances of the aforementioned Mr. Woo, or even Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973); meanwhile Taslim’s Ito rescuing a preteen from slaughter recalls everything from 1994’s Léon: The Professional to last year’s Logan. There’s not a lot of time for trenchant dialogue and introspection here — in this genre more than any other action is character, and so we glean our understanding of these guys more or less from whom they kill or don’t kill at any given time than anything else. Uwais, playing the younger, more amoral role, is as watchable as ever, but Taslim is a revelation, imbuing Ito with a palpable sense of weary regret and self-loathing, even when he’s dispatching armies of goons in the most brutal of ways.
Yes, let’s talk about the violence in The Night Comes for Us. In retrospect, marrying an action-thriller narrative with grindhouse gore seems like a bit of a no-brainer, and perhaps even the next logical step in the genre’s evolution. I’d go so far as to argue that this film isn’t the first to do so, but might be the trope codifier for this emerging subgenre, having been presaged by not only Tjahjanto’s earlier works, but the gruesome action sequences in, as an example, Antoine Fuqua’s Equalizer movies.
But even keeping that in mind, there’s almost certainly going to be something here to shock you, and for sure plenty of moments that will knock you back in your seat. Blood sprays like a broken fire hydrant on this one. Limbs are broken, faces, destroyed, jugulars severed, bowels torn free, and on and on and on.
It’s genuinely next level stuff, and that’s not meant in a sadistic or bloodthirsty way, although anyone squeamish is going to want to give The Night Comes for Us a very wide berth. It’s cartoonish, really; picture a spectrum with ‘realism’ in the middle, and the good-natured but largely bloodless antics of Jackie Chan on one end — The Night Comes for Us is on the other extreme, a polar opposite in terms of tone but equidistant from the real world. Although the intent is not comedic, the effect of all this over-the-top bloodletting is similar to a really ribald comedy, the sort where your laughter is boosted by that unfakable holy-god-I-can’t-believe-they-did-that response to seeing something outlandish and boundary-pushing — only here that happens about every 30 seconds. Action fans and gorehounds who have grown jaded are going to have a blast with this one and, if you’re in the crossover of both groups, you’re in for the time of your life.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Travis Johnson