It’s Christmas, and Karen (Susan Burke) has finally managed to convince her husband Matt (AJ Bowen) to visit his estranged brother Steve (Scott Poythress). Upon their surprise arrival, Steve is less then pleased to see them. It has nothing to do with the typical family issues however, and much more to do with the fact that Steve has something trapped in the basement. Something he believes to be the Devil itself.
With echoes of They Look Like People, I Trapped the Devil is a slow-burning psychological horror, one that focuses in on mental illness. The big debate for the majority of the run time is of course Matt and Karen questioning how well Steve is. It isn’t normal behaviour to lock someone up in your basement. Worried for Steve’s well being, and the thought of getting into trouble themselves, they try to convince him to let the person go. As the film develops, persuaded by Steve’s arguments, or bothered by the being itself, they teeter on the edge of believing him. Their reaction mirrors that of the audience. This is a film that requires audience buy-in to truly succeed. Director Josh Lobo plants you firmly in the shoes of Matt and Karen, and forces you to question what you would do in the same situation.
I Trapped the Devil is all about the relationships between the three leads as they constantly shift around. It’s a dialogue heavy film with most scenes simply being a conversation between two or more of our core characters. This means that this is a film that you truly need to listen to to fully understand everything. There are no jump scares or wild action scenes to distract the viewer, it’s a solid three-piece drama that commands your attention. In many ways, it’s like a theatre show, only the viewer is sitting on the stage, right in the middle of the cast. So absorbing is the story and the constant back and forth as to who, or what the truth is, the time flashes by and before you know it we’re at the sinister finale.
Given all the scenes of dialogue, it’s a relief that the cast are solid actors. Each character has their own defined characteristics, and each goes on a journey throughout the film, with no-one ending-up quite how they started. Praise should be given to Poythress for his turn as Steve, as he has arguably the hardest job of the three, as he has to maintain high levels of panic and paranoia throughout. It must have been an exhausting task to maintain those energy levels on set, but you wouldn’t know it from watching.
Lobo crafts an unnerving atmosphere in which his cast play. The location, Steve’s house, screams a loner kook lives there; the house is covered from head to toe in papers from Steve’s investigations. It’s like what Spooky Mulder’s house might look like if he didn’t have the X-Files. Said house is then lightly lit, casting shadows that serve to heighten the tension and keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s little score, in order to give the dialogue the chance to be heard and to highlight the silences, again inspiring unease.
An atmospheric and absorbing watch, I Trapped the Devil encourages audience participation whilst at the same time creeping them out.
I Trapped the Devil is available on Digital HD and DVD now.
This review was first published on THN.