CINEMASCOPE: NOT QUITE HORROR

May 12, 2019

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When you watch a lot of horror movies — because you love the genre — you realise that there aren’t many ideas to go round. Even the best ones can feel a bit derivative. That’s why I was excited to have the opportunity to watch the independent flick I Trapped the Devil recently.

Directed by newcomer Josh Lobo, the film has rightly earned a lot of buzz. The only problem is that it isn’t quite a horror film. In fact, if you go in expecting a horror film, you’ll leave disappointed. According to IMDB, it was originally called A Man in the Dark, which is a far more appropriate title. But clearly, it’s hard to make money off your small low-budget indie film when it’s opening at the same time as one of the biggest movies of all time, Avengers: Endgame. That’s why, I’m guessing, they changed the film to the far sexier sounding I Trapped the Devil. Not sure if that worked, though.

The film opens with a tease. Two cops enter a house to investigate a disturbance. They’re about to discover something when the film flashes several hours back. This time, Matt (A.J. Bowen) and his spouse Karen (Susan Burke) are entering the same house to check in on Matt’s estranged brother, Steve (Scott Poythress). Steve hasn’t been seen or heard from in some time.

Director Josh Lobo shows enough promise in I Trapped the Devil to make us look forward to his next film

When Matt and Karen enter, Steve is unhappy to see them and wants them to leave. There’s no explanation, but the house is a bit of a creepy mess; every window is covered by newspapers, while crosses to ward off evil are found all over the house. When Karen investigates, she finds a gun. Finally, Matt has had enough and asks his brother what’s going on. Steve tells him his truth, that he’s trapped an actual devil in the basement.

Here, the film poses an interesting question. Is it really the devil, or some poor victim from the streets caught by a madman? I Trapped the Devil has some fun by keeping us guessing. But we quickly realise that all’s not what it seems.

I Trapped the Devil is well-acted. All three performers have their moments. It’s a small-set film shot with limited resources and a lot of ambition, but it can be atmospheric and creepy. The film is all about evoking the feeling of dread and paranoia, and it often does so effectively. Certainly, director Josh Lobo shows enough promise here to make us look forward to his next film.

Interestingly, the premise is highly reminiscent of an episode from the TV show, The Twilight Zone. The problem is that it sometimes feels like it is stretching an idea fit for a short episode into an entire feature-length film. Sadly, it doesn’t always have the goods to make that work.

The problem is that he doesn’t do quite enough to make I Trapped the Devil an unconditional recommendation. The film can be slow, and at times boring, because the script is a bit weak. The characterisation, back stories and family drama could have had more depth. Moreover, the ending is disappointing, though your mileage may vary.

Interestingly, the premise is highly reminiscent of an episode from the TV show, The Twilight Zone. The problem is that it sometimes feels like it is stretching an idea fit for a short episode into an entire feature-length film. Sadly, it doesn’t always have the goods to make that work.

Unrated

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 12th, 2019