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There have been many movies based around the concept of the fallen angel Lucifer and his possible presence amongst us with classics like Angel Heart and Rosemary’s Baby regularly topping the bunch. But no film has handled this popular concept quite like Josh Lobo’s I Trapped the Devil.
The movie opens with AJ Bowen’s Matt, journeying through harsh weather conditions with his wife Karen (Susan Burke) during the Christmas season. This is to check in on his older brother Steve (Matt Poythress) who both have become concerned for. Upon arriving at Steve’s home, Matt quickly learns his brother is consumed by fear and paranoia, believing he has trapped something truly sinister in his basement.
Even though I Trapped the Devil was released by Yellow Veil Pictures, the slow burn tale feels like it was plucked straight from the heart of A24’s darker catalogue entries – something perhaps down to its director’s uncanny ability to hide his film’s low budget origins. Darkened visual palettes are brought to life by vibrant reds and hues of green and blue, providing Lobo’s movie with a more accomplished polish rarely associated with such modest resources. It is clear to see that the filmmaker applied great care and style to his debut and it isn’t hard to dream of what Lobo could achieve with a bigger budget.
In terms of performances, indie horror regular Bowen (You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die) is charismatic and strong as always as Matt. Meanwhile, Poythress embodies the madness of his character confidently and Burke fights to firmly root this maniacal situation in defiant realism. It is all extremely convincing from Lobo and the main cast. That said, unfortunately, I Trapped the Devil stumbles in certain aspects.
Slow burn horror movies can be truly rewarding experiences when they culminate into a fast paced, provocative finale that makes the hairs stand up on the back of viewers’ necks as everything finally comes full circle. I Trapped the Devil doesn’t have this. Instead, it opts for an extremely slow affair, one which aims to provoke but ultimately falls flat.
40 minutes into I Trapped the Devil, the viewer finally encounters the enigmatic voice behind the door in the basement for the first time. Given that the movie clocks in at about 75 minutes, this first confrontation is long overdue and from that point on, the pace never picks up. It is a disappointing case of a spark of intrigue immediately deflated by a return to overly long shots and a lack of any real character development or tension.
The bare bones plot is another hugely detrimental issue with Lobo’s horror flick. With I Trapped the Devil, one never really learns anything about anyone by its conclusion. Yes, you discover who this ‘man’ locked in the basement is and what he has possibly done to deserve imprisonment and hostile treatment but aside from that barely anything else is on show here.
Matt loves his brother but questions his mental well-being. Susan supports Matt. His brother is having issues stemming from the captivity of this man in his basement. These personalities and motivations are established early on. But Lobo does very little to shake foundations up. There is only so much brooding atmosphere and confused expressions characters can give before viewers realise I Trapped the Devil has little to say.
The movie’s finale is a mixed bag and it’s a damn shame. Steve’s insanity peaks and the finale becomes a familiar road we have taken many times before. While the soundtrack provides pulsating ambient beats which try ramping up the pace, once again overly long shots and brooding atmosphere detract from a much needed adrenaline rush.
Taken as a whole, despite some strong filmmaking in its early sections, I Trapped the Devil feels like a concept never truly fleshed out. With a larger budget and another re-write of the script, it could have been a memorable indie horror. As it stands, the movie is nothing more than a showcase of possible future promise.