Directed by Abel & Burlee Vang.
Starring Saxon Sharbino, Bonnie Morgan, Brandon Soo Hoo, Alexis G. Zall, and Matty Finochio.
A group of teens are dangerously threatened by a spirit in a malicious, A.I. app following the mysterious death of their friend.
“This is the perfect set-up for a bad horror movie where no-one survives”, utters our tragically cursed lead, with the sort of self-aware smugness reserved for parody outings such as Scary Movie, or Scary Movie 2, or even, shockingly, Scary Movie 3. But the funny thing is, Bedeviled, directed by first time feature film directing pair, the Vang Brothers (Abel has directed a movie before, this is Burlee’s first time), is a horrible mishmash of much better, scarier, interesting horror movies. An interesting concept is turned into a hilariously stupid conceit, and the writing, also penned by the Vangs, is about as nuanced and handled as a glitchy app.
Please understand, the idea here is actually brilliant; some would even say relevant and very timely. With the rise of artificial intelligence around the globe, and more and more homes being kitted out with voice-responsive platforms such as Siri and Alexa, and even Google, a modern update of The Ring story seems like a good thing. But it’s amazing just how quickly it goes downhill – as in, the first 20 seconds are great, then it goes kaput. The film kicks off with some wickedly pulsating and foreboding music (courtesy of David Williams, whose score is attentive enough without being offensive but can be unfavourably cheesy), and an 80s slasher title sequence – black screen, bright red, serif font. But this very quickly descends into pointless artistic fluff through an annoyingly stale opening sequence, which pretty much introduces the set-design for the entire film. Nearly every room throughout is lit by rays of light. Imagine the scene from The Goonies where they’re playing the piano to escape the Fratellis, and the ramp keeps coming down with the blue rays of light. That’s it, that’s the whole movie. No house has a lamp, apparently. They just love that sweet glow of Mother Nature’s bulb.
The mood-setter for the flick is the young girl’s death which her friends are set to mourn over for the next hour and a half. Her death at the hands of this nefarious villain doesn’t get close to a scare, but there was potential. It’s a creepy creation, Babadookian in its looks and Puppet Master-y in its execution and movements. But you just don’t see it anywhere near enough – it has lots of little sidekicks which torment our phone-addicted youths. How is it they all get this app in the first place, I hear you ask. Well, after their friend’s passing, they receive an invite from her to play a game on their phones. Naturally, they all accept thinking its an automatic invite kind of thing, and boom, they’re cursed. And like the phone calls of The Ring, there’s pretty much no escape in Bedeviled.
Interesting, indeed. To give merit where it’s due, the voice work in the app, viciously and delightfully developed by Jordan Essoe, is reminiscent of Scream. He is a devilish joy to listen to as he gets under his victim’s skin. But outside his pestering, the writing is unforgivably bad. Packed to the brim with unnecessary topical and alarmingly naive observations of modern tech habits and racism. It’s unnatural shoehorned nonsense; the same goes for the banter between our so-called group of friends, which is so woodenly delivered it’s as if they’re learning lines as they go. Sharbino is the most familiar face, having starred in American Vandal, but she is barely a glimmer of rays in this yawn-fest. Their friendships are totally unconvincing, lessening any emotional stakes – like there was any in the first place.
The tension is also diminished by the sheer lack of actual physical harm. There’s plenty of fake scares, but none of the potentially creative body horror a script like this could have possessed. There’s some occasionally nice cinematography, and the camera work, generally, is okay, but it’s shot like a horror themed episode of a kids show. Visually, it exists in the same universe as Sorority Row, which isn’t a glowing reference.
The highlight of the movie comes in a very short cameo from the brilliant Billy Mayo, who’s had many roles over the years, but his best work was in Ari Aster’s debut short film, The Strange Thing About The Johnsons. He exclaims what is perhaps the most gloriously daft line of the year: “And your god damn selfies! I can’t even tell the difference between a duck face and an asshole!” But while you’ll relish in this moment, the whole affair feels tiresomely empty, like a horror with no heart. It should have been a short film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★