I can't help thinking that if I was Gareth Evans, I'd be a little upset with Netflix. Just one week after the streaming giant released Evans' cult-themed horror Apostle, they have put out a movie transparently based on his own Raid series. It's hard not to suspect that the timing of The Night Comes For Us is designed at least partly to capitalise on the segment of Evans' fanbase who are disappointed that he chose not to make The Raid 3 (myself included).
While Timo Tjahjanto is a capable director in his own right, with his own ideas, the similarity of The Night Comes For Us to Evans' own movies is very striking. It's not just the presence of series acting veterans Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle and Zack Lee - much of the visual style, plotting, and (limited) characterisation is very much in the same vein. While Joe Taslim is our antihero here, and Iko Uwais an antagonist with limited screen time, this is to all intents and purposes an unofficial The Raid 3.
The differences may be relatively few, but they are stark. The Night Comes For Us has a smaller budget, which is reflected in the fairly limited number of locations and very little outdoor shooting compared to the epic sprawl of The Raid 2. With a background in horror, Tjahjanto's action scenes (while still choreographed by Iko) are significantly more bloodthirsty. For much of its runtime, the film plays out as a litany of grisly killings, as guns, knives, baseball bats, shards of glass, steel wires, and bare hands are brought to bear on named characters and anonymous henchmen alike. Make no mistake: a stronger stomach is required here.
Tjahjanto pursued a similar approach on his previous film with Kimo Stamboel, Headshot (2016). Starring Iko Uwais and with a Raid-esque feel of its own, that movie was pervaded by a cruel, vicious streak and its violence was as much in a horror mode as it was in an action one. This time around, the action may be very grisly but it manages to be genuinely exciting more often that Headshot did - if not consistently.
With Iko on choreography duties, it's no surprise that the fights in The Night Comes For Us are varied and frequently fantastic. There's a suitably meaty brawl in a butcher's shop, an epic duel between Joe Taslim and Iko, and even an inheritor of sorts to the famous in-car fight from The Raid 2. Julie Estelle has a relatively small role here, but does get a very impressive and bloody one-versus-two fight in an apartment against two women assassins.
For all of these strengths, The Night Comes For Us is a difficult film to love because of its shortcomings in terms of story and character. There's really very little about this saga of gangland betrayal that is original or in any way surprising and while the constant action is impressive, it leaves no room for plot or character development. Even major figures like Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais are almost complete mysteries, and we know almost nothing at all about the women in the film. Action for its own sake can be exciting in moderation, but to really invest in the conflicts we need real characters - however superb the choreography.
Like Headshot before it, The Night Comes For Us is a restatement of the tremendous strengths and significant weaknesses of Indonesian action movies so far. If Timo Tjahjanto and his stars can just come up with something more original and characterful next time, there's no limit to what they can achieve.
The Night Comes for Us is on Netflix now