“You can’t kill what’s already dead,” someone gurgles towards the end of Timo Tjahjanto’s “The Night Comes for Us,” and while that assessment may be true, the recent onslaught of bone-crunching Indonesian action films has made it painfully, relentlessly, nauseatingly clear that you can do pretty much anything to what’s about to die. You can shoot it. You can stab it. You can impale it with a spare cow femur that you find lying on the floor of a butcher shop. And — most important of all — you can mix-and-match those methods (and hundreds more just like them) to your heart’s delight, over and over again, until the props department finally runs out of fake blood.
In a grimy beat-em-up like “The Night Comes for Us,” where fake blood appears to account for something like 80% of the shooting budget, that can take a mighty long time. Too long, perhaps.
Shot in the ultra-violent tradition of gonzo spectacles like “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2” (and featuring several of the same performers), “The Night Comes for Us” has little interest in going off the beaten path. And yes, the movie is so merciless that not even the “path” can avoid getting beaten. In fact, “the mold” might literally be the only thing that Tjahjanto doesn’t break, as the “Headshot” writer-director’s latest massacre shares many of the strengths (and all of the same flaws) as the films that paved the way for this one.
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Much like its predecessors, “The Night Comes for Us” is a martial-arts extravaganza that’s pegged to the full-body (and prop-friendly) Indonesian fighting style of Pencak Silat, which allows for super gory combat scenes that unfold like a cross between Jackie Chan and John Rambo. And, much like its predecessors, “The Night Comes for Us” is an alternately giddy and exhausting ordeal — a film that somehow manages to squeeze in way more plot than it needs, but not enough to make you care about who’s kicking who, let alone why.
The story is overloaded with useless information from the very start, as the wordy opening title cards immediately suggest that Tjahjanto couldn’t be bothered to find a more elegant way of conveying exposition. Here’s the gist: The South East Asian Triad controls the entire smuggling trade in the region, and they’ve deputized a half-dozen anonymous badasses to do whatever they can to keep the peace. These secret assassins, known as “The Six Seas,” can kill whomever they want, whenever they want, without fear of reprisal. Surely, a flawless system that eliminates all potential for problems, right?
Not so much, it turns out. In fact, everything goes to hell when a guy named Ito (brooding “The Raid” brawler Joe Taslim) is compelled to surrender his immunity when he can’t bring himself to murder a little girl as part of a cover-up. She’s just too cute! Suddenly, Ito realizes that slaughtering hundreds upon hundreds of innocent people is not very nice, and he wants to stop doing it; “Redemption,” it turns out, would be a fitting subtitle for any of these films.
Alas, redemption isn’t going to come easy, especially once Ito’s boss (Sunny Pang) enlists our hero’s childhood best friend to bring him down. Bad news for Ito: His childhood best friend, Arain, is played by the unstoppable poster boy of Pencak Silat himself, Iko Uwais (always a force of nature during the fight scenes, but strangely miscast as a villain whose nefarious character really just boils down to a bad haircut). You know that it’s only a matter of time before these two guys are going to stand in an abandoned warehouse — surrounded by the bodies of dead henchmen — and beat the living shit out of each other, but Tjahjanto takes the scenic route to get there, and the trail is very much under destruction.
Each new scene confronts Ito with another hoard of grunts and sub-bosses, every one of whom drips with untapped personality. Watching him kick, punch, chop (et al.) these people to death is plenty of fun, at least before your eyes begin to glaze over. Every single thing on-screen can and is used as a weapon. The butcher shop sequence alluded to above is a perfect example: Just when it seems like the room has been exhausted of its potential for violence, someone gets murdered with those plastic PVC drapes that separate the slaughterhouse in the back from the store in the front. Why not.
At its best, the grisly slapstick in “The Night Comes for Us” offers more ingenuity in a single murder than Hollywood can scrounge up in an entire movie. It’s frustrating that Tjahjanto is so reluctant to let his carnage be funny (a “Safety starts with you” sign hanging in the background is the closest he gets to a joke), and that he still doesn’t know how to sustain a feature-length story (the deliriously great segment he contributed to horror anthology “V/H/S/2” remains the clear highlight of his career), but if American studios had a fraction of his cutthroat imagination — or even just his flair for cutting throats — perhaps our superhero franchises wouldn’t always feel like they’re just pre-vizing through the motions. John Wick can only do so much.
If you’ve ever wanted to see a film that played out like a two-hour version of the hallway fight from “Oldboy,” you’ve come to the right place. Of course, no one actually wants to see that. Cool as it might sound in theory, the actual experience grows numbing after a few minutes, and downright boring soon after that. For lifelong action junkies, there’s something very troubling about the tedium; watching three leather-clad female assassins (one of whom even drives a quasi-futuristic motorcycle!) try to slaughter each other with piano wire just shouldn’t be so dull.
To his credit, Tjahjanto does attempt to devise a solution, as he introduces a series of incoherent flashbacks during the film’s second hour, but these scenes add little to the drama. Maybe the backstory would have pulled more weight at the beginning of the story; at the point they’re cut into the mix, it’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. Here’s hoping that someone of Tjahjanto’s visceral talent eventually finds a way to stop the bleeding.
“The Night Comes for Us” will be available to stream on Netflix beginning Friday, October 19.