I TRAPPED THE DEVIL (2019)
No sleigh bells ring, no snow glistens. No carollers call, nobody is decking the halls. Someone has a very special yuletide visitor…but it isn’t Santa. Matt Rogerson takes a look at the latest release from IFC Midnight, hitting US theatres and on demand 26 April.
It’s a good time to be a horror fan.
In the last couple of years we’ve had blockbusting, record-breaking Stephen King adaptations, the continued onslaught of Jason Blum and his house of myriad mainstream horrors, a slew of socially conscious hits from the likes of Jordan Peele, Coralie Fargeat, Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber, the genre festival circuit is bursting at the seams and so are streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Shudder. Your local megaplex seems to be running with as many smash hit horror movies as they are marvellous superheroes, and 2019 is shaping up to be the biggest year yet. We’ve already had Us and Pet Sematary making waves, and still to come there’s Brightburn, The Curse of La Llorona, Ari Aster’s Midsommar and, of course, IT part 2.
While the real world burns down around us with ever quickening pace, truly this modern age is a golden one for those of us who love cinema’s darkest side.
And it isn’t just the studios and streaming services churning out our horror hits. The low budget underground is also fertile breeding ground, with low key, high quality genre films coming thick and fast.
I Trapped The Devil is one such film. The directorial debut of Josh Lobo (@iamjoshlobo), released by IFC Midnight (@IFCMidnight) and repped by Ted (We Are Still Here, Mohawk) Geoghegan (@tedgeoghegan) is a smart, suspenseful, micro-budget macabre melodrama.
This single location thriller stars Scott Poythress (The Signal, True Detective, One Tree Hill) as Steve, a paranoid loner who believes he has trapped the devil in his cellar. As if this were not enough, his brother Matt (AJ Bowen – You’re Next, House of the Devil, The Guest) and sister in law Karen (Susan Burke – Southbound, Stan Against Evil) turn up unexpectedly to celebrate Christmas, and it isn’t long before his secret is out. Matt and Karen attempt to determine if Steve really does have Beelzebub in his basement, or if his long dormant psychological problems have awoken once more.
From the opening, it is clear that Lobo’s directorial debut comes from someone familiar with the accumulated knowledge of genre cinema and visual storytelling. Static on a television screen fills the frame as demonic voices chatter in the background, instantly recalling the permeable filmic membrane of Poltergeist, Videodrome and Ringu amongst others. Matthew Schaff’s sound design (incorporating music by Ben Lovett) provides a creepy ambience that complement’s Bryce Holden’s tight, claustrophobic camerawork and the art direction of Sage Alice Griffith and Blake Harbour.
I Trapped The Devil is economical filmmaking at its finest. The various elements provided by the cast and crew combine to create a micro-budget film that is genuinely more than the sum of its parts. There is a truly creepy, oppressive atmosphere throughout, and at times it feels like we are trapped alongside Matt’s demonic basement dweller. Various elements of the film are reminiscent of (without deferring to) independent horror hits including Ti West’s House of the Devil, Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, Mickey Keating’s Darling and Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here.
The story is very well paced, a deliberate crawl through Matt’s house and his psyche, as the trust between he, Steve and Karen soon breaks down. Matt shows his visitors his murderboard (bright red crisscrossing thread creates fractal pentagrams across a drab attic wall, in a highlight of the film’s wonderfully eerie production design) as he attempts to explain to them why he has a hostage in his home. Steve and Karen have their own ideas about what’s going on. They each take turns approaching the cellar door, only to succumb to the seductive tones of the disembodied voice beyond it.
No spoilers here, but there are some terrific little twists along the way, and each of them feels earned. The plot is tight, Lobo’s script sparse enough to allow the visual elements to tell the story, and the final act benefits from an injection of surrealism, as the linear narrative appears to break down completely, a mechanism reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy from the early 1980s and various offerings from the Satanic Panic subgenre of the 1970s. The climax does not disappoint, as Lobo chooses not to give us an outright resolution, but leaves us to determine whether to trust our eyes or our instincts. Films of this nature risk everything in their closing moments, as the desire to retain a level of ambiguity risks alienating audiences who crave a definitive answer to the questions posed. In this writer’s opinion, Lobo just about pulls it off.
There is a danger, in this new age of the horror blockbusters, that smaller films such as I Trapped the Devil might be overlooked by audiences. Next weekend, genre fans have an opportunity to see a little sprinkle of independent cinematic magic as it drops in theatres and on-demand simultaneously 26 April (check press for details). Please go out and show this little genre gem some love!
The son of a VHS pirate, Matt Rogerson became a horror fan at a tender young age. A student of the genre, he is currently writing his first book (about Italian horror and the Vatican) and he believes horror cinema is in the middle of a new golden age.
Looking for a new HORROR Podcast? This week on Beyond The Void Horror Podcast They make up a crazy movie on the podcast for their #graveplots segment. This week. It’s Rabid Suburban Poodles about poodles that get infected with an experimental drug and eat the rich. Complete with sound fx and voice acting! check it out! Listen/Subscribe on iTunes here!