Review: The Night Comes for Us (2018)

Netflix’s new action-thriller The Night Comes for Us, comes from the mind of seasoned merchant of death, director Timo Tjahjanto of Headshot and Killers fame. Possessing the same DNA as the recent barrage of white-knuckled Indonesian action films, Night is a balletic onslaught of flying limbs, whole and dismembered; this is cinematic violence par excellence.

Much like its cousins of The Raid franchise, what’s on display here is a royal pageantry of the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. Night shows little interest in rising above that mould. The cast (current flagbearer of Indonesian action cinema Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim, both of The Raid fame) gamely throw themselves into every kick, slice and parry. A magnolia display of athleticism of the highest order, every crackle, gurgle and pop of bone rings true; Tjahjanto an outrĂ© surgeon of the sweet science when steel meets skin. Indeed it seems as though his macabre inventiveness left no stone unturned, finding new ways to maim, dismember or otherwise injure with seemingly innocuous objects (an early sequence rendering a butcher shop as an abattoir is a particular standout, only this time it is the humans who are the meat). In a world where little has been done for improvised violence ever since Jason Bourne first killed a man with a pen in 2002, Night offers more outlandishly arranged deaths in one sequence than Hollywood can offer in whole trilogies. The sheer excessiveness and indulgence towards bloodshed can at times border on slapstick and parody, but this should be par for the course for dedicated followers of Tjahjanto’s oeuvre. Pulses can drive from here.

The film is structured much like a beat-em’-up video game and certainly features the body count of one. Each sequence features a gamut of faceless grunts that the irrepressibly agile and cutthroat protagonist can pound to an inch beyond its life before facing off with a boss-like special character. With a rogue gallery that contains deadly garrotte wire wielding French assassins, a flamboyant butcher and a fallen angel ex-comrade who is an inverted double of the protagonist, the film does at times resemble the work of Japanese maverick mastermind Suda51, whose No More Heroes bears more than a fleeting resemblance to Night.

Much like a video game too, does Night falls prey to what is termed as ludonarrative dissonance in the parlance of video game theory. Broadly speaking, ludonarrative dissonance arises in the violation of the aesthetic distance between narrative and gameplay; to wit, in the Uncharted franchise, hero Nathan Drake is played off as a John McClane type in the narrative, a lovable everyman who just happens to be caught in extraordinary situations. A set up that is undermined severely by the player controlled segments of the game where players are tasked with the casual slaughter of thousands of henchmen. It’s all by the by really. A similar disjunction stymies Night; I found myself at times, confused as to who to root for. A simple clash of ideologies is presented at the heart of the film, Taslim’s veteran hitman Ito has a late-career change of heart that has him suddenly valuing human lives, literalized in the little girl shaped macguffin of Reina; Uwais’ Arian on the other, is still mired in a bath of gangland violence and warfare due to his misguided bid for power and status. Ostensibly, we are asked to root for Ito; his quest for redemption is presented unambiguously as a positive one. However, this stance jars against the film’s gleeful and cavalier attitude towards taking lives. For a film that takes as much sheer delight as this one, glossy and aestheticized in its careless dance of gore and sundry, it becomes difficult to root for a hero whose very quest is predicated upon the sacred preservation of life but seems to take the longest possible route towards the ending of one. One might say Ito is meeting his fate on the path he took to avoid it, but it could well be a mismatch of message and method. Here violence and death are confectionery, a pick-n-mix grand buffet where each hit is dopamine sent straight to the pleasure centres of the mind. 

The Night Comes for Us is ultimately a worthy new addition to the martial arts extravaganza of Indonesian action cinema that has surely become a new sub-genre. Action junkies can sit assured in Tjahjanto’s jubilant and merry staging of his set-pieces. The film is a Grand Guignol rigmarole of broken bones, exposed arteries and severed limbs streaked in synth-cool neon lights. The actors’ hoary exhortations earn them every blow and strike they deliver in this film, seemingly reaching out from beyond the screen to remind you of its authenticity. Perhaps the question to ask here is- just because we can tear a man asunder six ways to Sunday doesn’t mean we should. What might the action genre have to offer us beyond pulse quickening spectacle and viscera? 

Review by Koh Zhi Hao

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