‘Evil is whatever hurts you the most’ explains Steve (Scott Poythress) to his brother Matt (AJ Bowen), who has unexpectedly dropped by on a cold Christmas night with his wife Karen (Susan Burke) – much to Steve’s disapproval. Steve has been estranged from Matt for quite some time, but his particularly strange mood on this occasion is due to the fact that he believes he has The Devil locked up in his basement. Evil incarnate. Satan himself.
When we question the embodiment of evil it may be an easy response to envision a red devil with a pronged staff, a human-goat hybrid, or a sub-human demonic figure. Josh Lobo’s directorial debut I Trapped the Devil tackles things a little differently, by personifying the Devil through a characters personal gaze. Through this approach, Lobo poses questions of his characters’ sanity and hysteria – is there even anyone in the basement at all? If so, are they actually Lucifer himself?
Matt and Karen become more involved with the issue of the basement captive as the film plods along, pondering if Steve is actually at the hands of a cruel bout of mental illness while they too slowly become unraveled. Christmas lights blink and a TV in Steve’s living room frequently displays nothing but static, flickering sporadically with images of a woman screaming; the source of which is unclear. The atmosphere is certainly one of unease, the red and green of the Christmas lights bring the vibe down to a sombre tone rather than a joyful one, and there are moments that evoke classic horror visuals to great success. A 70s style title card and some beautifully lit shots – doused in red light that shoot the subjects from below – drench their terrified faces in shadow like something from a 1950s horror.
However, this appreciation of classic visuals and atmosphere never spreads fully throughout the film, making Lobo’s story almost tedious. There’s certainly a moral questioning ensuing within the narrative, one that has always stood strong in the genre, but with a mind-map of troubles spiraling in so many directions (and literally all over Steve’s attic ceiling) there feels like very little payoff or frights to revel in during the overstretched final act.
I Trapped The Devil never really seems to take off, its moody meditation about the nature of good and evil only proves satisfying for a limited run, its 82 minutes ultimately dragging. Lobo entices with dimly-lit basements and retro nods, but those interested in serious frights and gnarly demons might have to look elsewhere.
I Trapped the Devil is in cinemas on April 26th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here