Josh Lobo’s I Trapped The Devil is a confined, psychological creeper that pits strained family members against each other in a tug-of-war with pure evil. Lobo’s thought-experiment from the darkside, is a great capsule of paranoia with a killer title. Originally announced as “A Man in The Dark“, I Trapped The Devil may be a less subtle title but dammit if it isn’t perfect.
I Trapped The Devil brings two estranged brothers together during the Christmas season after years apart. Matt (A.J. Bowen) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke) trek through treacherous weather to see Matt’s brother Steve (Scott Poythress) only to receive the cold, paranoid shoulder. After realizing that his surprise guests aren’t going to turn back around and leave, he confesses that he has trapped the devil in his basement.
At least that’s what Steve says, and he believes it too. According to him, he has captured the actual, real-life, capital D, Devil. Steve is very, very serious about this but Matt and Karen are pretty certain that he has an innocent, harmless man locked away downstairs. The three tiptoe around each other, trying to talk some sense into the rest of the group over one tense evening, but the real story is more than just a will-they-or-won’t-they shake hands with The Devil. I Trapped The Devil is, in part, about how we treat people who see the world differently than we do, and what better time to tell that story than the Holiday season.
I’m a big fan of bottle stories, and any movie that keeps characters contained in tight quarters (Panic Room, Phonebooth, Pontypool, other movies that don’t begin with P). In the 90’s gem Suicide Kings Christopher Walken plays a clever and manipulative kidnapping victim that slowly pits his captors against each other, burrowing into their heads and placing them under his thumb. Walken is intimidating and influential enough as a human but he’s no Devil. And there’s no sympathy to be had for that weak voice calling out when it drops all theatrics and the walls shake from it’s deep, thundering bellow.
The presentation of evil in I Trapped The Devil, both as a concept and something tangible, is everything for me in this movie. Regardless of what Steve actually has tied up in the basement, his belief that evil is alive and out walking the streets is a fantastic claim for a psychological horror. His world view has dug him a fox hole that isn’t big enough for anyone else, and even if it were- no one can be trusted.
When the film dives deep into the psychological torture of it’s situation, story does a bit of a back seat but only because opening the door becomes the only thing that matters. Either the characters are going to open the door and unleash evil, or the door stays locked and curiosity eats away at you for eternity. It’s like pulling a pin on a grenade that only has a 50% chance of detonating. You pull the pin and either you die or you don’t, but everything interesting about the moment is how you react in that short time with death breathing on your shoulder. Like every movie with this framework, I Trapped The Devil (maybe unfairly) lives and dies by that decision.
Limiting itself to a single house, there’s very little room to explore its claims much further than Steve’s (possibly insane) suspicions. When the infighting starts and characters are left to fend for themselves, there are limiting interactions to keep moving everything forward and I was left waiting for Satan to save the day. Partly because that voice in the dark is a black hole that sucks everything closer and closer to oblivion- but also because this movie does a great job of making you want to open that door. I Trapped The Devil ins’t the explosive battle the title might be selling but the stakes are high in this indie holiday horror with an evil that reverberates through the film despite never being seen.
I Trapped The Devil is the debut feature from writer/director Josh Lobo, and stars AJ Bowen (You’re Next, The House of The Devil), Susan Burke (Southbound), and Scott Poythress (The Signal). Presented by IFC Midnight, I Trapped The Devil is in select theatres and On-Demand April 26. Let us know what you thought of the film on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!