Being that most things in your average action movie are impossible, including the dialogue, the genre is best measured by a film’s volume of oh shit moments—the ones that hit you broadside and demand to be rewound, gaped at, and keyboard smashed about. For examples: the first time Deadpool sliced a bullet in half; that time Captain America knocked out an entire S.H.I.E.L.D. drop team in an elevator; the nightclub scene in John Wick; the hallway scene in the premiere season of Daredevil; and Atomic Blonde’s stairwell brawl.
Above all of these is Gareth Evans’s 2012 film The Raid: Redemption, which was essentially one long oh shit moment. The fistfights are deliriously long and exceptionally brutal, which elevated the film to its cult-classic status. It’s been hailed on this very site as “the most influential action movie of this decade.”
Iko Uwais—The Raid’s most creative killer and its breakout star—handled all of the fight choreography for The Night Comes for Us, a new movie that you can and should watch on Netflix immediately, right now, today. Instead of a Jakartan super-cop on a suicide mission, Uwais plays an overly ambitious Triad enforcer named Arian, opposite a different Triad enforcer named Ito (Joe Taslim, who was also in The Raid). The Night Comes for Us, directed by Timo Tjahjanto, is one part Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, two parts The Raid, and one part The Shining. Imagine Mission Impossible as a slasher flick with a hard-R rating, based in Indonesia, centered on a newly orphaned girl instead of a dirty bomb.
Nothing that happens in the movie matters for more than five minutes at a time, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that the film begins in sixth gear. In terms of those aforementioned oh shit moments, The Night Comes for Us has wall-to-wall bangers. Here, my colleague Miles Surrey and I weigh in on the best performances, the bloodiest deaths, and the most creative uses of cow femur shards. —Micah Peters
Winner: The Operator
Miles Surrey: About an hour into The Night Comes for Us, a mysterious woman shows up wearing the coolest motorcycle visor I’ve ever seen, an actual tactleneck straight out of Archer, and decides this is now her movie.
This is Indonesian actress Julie Estelle, whom you might remember from The Raid 2 as the girl who wore shades and hit goons with a hammer. IMDb lists her character for that movie as “Hammer Girl”; in The Night Comes For Us, her role is listed as “The Operator,” thereby confirming that the dankest characters in action cinema don’t require a backstory, let alone an actual name. We don’t know why the Operator is so intent on helping little Reina from the massacred village, only that she is a bloody avatar for Triad vengeance. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to describe her as the very best at what she does. Who else could challenge two Triad leaders to simultaneous combat and practically decapitate one with the aid of air conditioner?
Tjahjanto has implied on Twitter that, were he allowed to move forward with his planned Night Comes for Us trilogy—please, Netflix, allow this to happen as penance for canceling American Vandal—the Operator would become the franchise’s central focus. (I mean … who else is even alive after this?) I’m game. You don’t even have to give her a name.
Winner: Fake Blood Suppliers
Peters: As we’ve established with the gruesomely slow dragging death above, The Night Comes for Us is almost arch horror when it isn’t hewing to the narrow principles of the martial arts movie. And there is so much blood.
Characters will take six stab wounds in and around the torso area, then whole magazines of bullets, and still stagger forward like zombies, for a coup de grâce.
There is so much blood.
Peters: As in, very few people in this movie make it to the credits with all of them intact. Pencak silat, the style used for the fight choreography in this movie, is a harsh one.
I spent too much time watching compilations of silat techniques and brawls on YouTube after this movie, seeing how it stacked up to other styles, as though this would be useful information to me. Here is something I read in the comments:
Trust me, i’ve been practicing Silat at least 7 years. My Master/Guru said to me “Losing the fight = Dead, Winning the fight = Jailed”
Tai chi is mostly about serenity, and wing chun is intended for self-defense. I think taekwondo has some cool kicks and teaches kids about self-discipline and perseverance. But it seems to me that the sole purpose of silat is snapping limbs and ending lives. Both of these things happen pretty often in The Night, if not totally 100 percent convincingly, since arms and legs only break in the movie when hidden by long sleeves and pants. It still bangs. And to make up for the subterfuge, there’s a scene where the Operator, without even so much as a wince, rips her own naked pinky off at the knuckle.
Winner: White Boy Bobby
Peters: So there’s this man named Bobby, who’s not white, but is “White Boy Bobby” nonetheless. Life has been inflicted on him. Bobby might be in his mid-30s, or much older: He sweats constantly, has few teeth and even fewer faculties, and also has a prosthetic foot. Bobby, you quickly come to understand, is the friend for whom the rest in the group have long since stopped staging interventions. He’s a nuisance, and beyond help.
EXCEPT, it turns out, Bobby doesn’t need any help. Bobby doesn’t need anything but his little pocket knife. And Bobby is damn near unkillable. He survives wave after wave of hatchetmen and saves Ito’s girlfriend!
Loser: Interpersonal Connection
Peters: You know, Ito’s girlfriend—she’s centered in the first half hour of this movie. But I swear, I completely forgot she even existed until just now.
Where is she? How is she doing?
Winner: Bottle Service
Surrey: Imagine having the gall to shit-talk Iko Uwais in his finest Ryan Gosling–in–Only God Forgives apparel. IMAGINE.
Winner: Bovine Carcasses
Surrey: Butcher shops are an elite action setting. You’ve got machetes and meat hooks and those things that saw off parts of animals down to the bone. But The Night Comes for Us provides a first in the butcher shop brawl canon: death by cow femur, courtesy of Ito and a nameless thug.
I will not GIF this; there have to be limits. But wow, his mind! We are only a few years away from a bludgeoning via raw rib eye. This is a golden age of cinema.
Loser: Character Motivations
Surrey: Even action movies often provide a why. Why is John Wick exterminating an entire Russian mob in John Wick? They killed his dog and stole his muscle car (fair). Why is John Wick killing a metrosexual Italian man and his goons in John Wick: Chapter 2? That Italian man blew up his chic house (very fair).
Why does anyone do anything in The Night Comes for Us? Who’s to say? Character motivations are bypassed as the movie continuously moves from one chaotic action set piece to another—nightclubs, butcher shops, apartment complexes, factories, et. al.—with absurd moments layered inside each other like a Russian nesting doll made entirely out of human entrails.
I’m not saying we needed to know what was driving all the key players. The Night Comes for Us knows exactly what it is. This exchange is the movie in miniature.
Winner: Moral Relativism
Peters: The Night turns on Ito’s decision to spare the little girl Reina, a decision that plays out as benevolent and empathetic and all those good and sugary things. LET US NOT FORGET that Ito had been playing the same role for the Triad for three years up to this point and had slaughtered an entire village of people immediately before he chose to spare her.
Was she the only little girl in the village? There weren’t other little girls in other villages?
Surrey: If there is one universal law of The Night Comes for Us world, it’s the rule of shticks. You must have one to be elevated from an anonymous henchman into an elite fighter.
In the Triad corner, you have Alma and her evil yo-yo (basically a portable version of the “bolito” from The Counselor), Elena and her Kukri (a Nepalese machete, which is as dope as it sounds), and Arian—well, he doesn’t really have one, but he gets to be played by Iko Uwais, who might be the greatest modern action star. That’s kind of a shtick?
Meanwhile, our protagonists are White Boy Bobby (he has one foot and, because this movie is one giant, violent video game, has 100 HP and a full shield), the Operator (tactleneck, guile, and abs), and Ito, who enters God Mode anytime he flashes his devious, I Was A Triad Executioner for Years Before I Got Sentimental grin. Shticks are good. More movies should have them.
Loser: Netflix’s Algorithm
Surrey: The downside to Netflix’s quest for entertainment omnipotence is that titles get lost in the sheer volume of original programming available. In Netflix’s third quarter, the company produced a record-high 676 hours(!) of original footage. So I get that you can’t promote every movie equally.
However, the algorithm needs some tweaking if the most unabashedly wild action flick this side of The Raid franchise isn’t targeting its potential audience. I am what you might call an action-movie enthusiast—I have the words “BABA YAGA” tattooed across my torso—and if my own action-heavy viewing habits still didn’t yield a notification that The Night Comes for Us was ready to be freebased October 19, something went wrong.