I TRAPPED THE DEVIL **** USA 2019 Dir: Josh Lobo. 82 mins
Writer-editor-director Josh Lobo’s low-key exercise in dread unfolds almost entirely in one house with four characters. The period is non-specific but with its recurring flickering analogue TV images, we’re guessing the 1970’s or 1980’s. It’s Christmas and there’s what the British call “proper snow” on the ground. Susan Burke drags her husband (the long underrated A.J. Bowen) to visit his reclusive brother Steve (Scott Poythress), some time after the untimely deaths of Steve’s family. Poythress is clearly haunted by Something, seems to be troubled by regular, apparently silent phone calls…and he keeps a man locked in the basement whom he claims is the Devil, having conjured Himself into the shape of a human man.
Although the movie works hard to sustain the ambiguity around Poythress’ outlandish claims, the house gives an unnerving insight into his state of mind: walls papered with missing posters and newspaper cuttings; covered windows and crosses on the doors; possible communications with the static on the boxy old television set. On the few occasions Lobo allows us to travel down with the characters to the basement, the unseen prisoner veers from tormented pleas to be released to an insane giggle, both entirely credible responses to his predicament.
With the set-up and lo-fi approach, there are inevitable echoes of Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – perhaps the best benchmark for the entire subset of nostalgic, 70’s-infused American occult horrors of the last ten years. It feels a little over-stretched: it’s telling that a similar premise worked even better as one of the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, “The Howling Man”. That said, Lobo’s commitment to creeping us out without any obvious back-steps to gore or jump scares is to be commended – and, if you go with it, it’s a genuinely eerie and unpredictable piece of work. Kudos to anyone who can make a horror movie in 2019 where the most alarming moment is a slowly opening, creaking door.
Review by Steven West