I Trapped the Devil, 2019.
Written and Directed by Josh Lobo.
Starring AJ Bowen, Susan Burke, Jocelin Donahue, Scott Poythress, Chris Sullivan, Rowan Russell, and Josh Marrott.
A disturbed man descends into paranoia after he believes he has trapped the devil in his basement. The claustrophobic fear is only intensified when his brother and sister-in-law arrive over the Christmas holidays.
I Trapped the Devil details the story of Steve (Scott Poythress), a lonely, seemingly extremely depressed individual harbouring a terrible secret. A surprise visit from his brother Matt (AJ Bowen) and sister-in-law Karen (Susan Burke) to celebrate the holidays introduces another surprise – this time wholly more horrible – into their lives. Steve believes he has managed to trap a man in his basement who is the devil himself.
Understandably, Matt and Karen find this somewhat difficult to believe. Has Steve had a complete schizophrenic breakdown? Did he miss taking his medication too many times? Or could it be that the mysterious stranger in the basement really is the source of ultimate evil?
A dark and coldly oppressive feeling is brought out onto the screen. Steve has a subdued sadness that looks as though it could erupt into something else at any moment. Despite the devilish story, which seems like a new fixation from Steve, one gets the feeling that this behaviour isn’t completely unknown, and that his brother has seen something similar before.
In any case, the Christmas setting is used well, with the feelings of isolation and mental fragility that many feel during the period strongly brought out. More of a psychological thriller than a straight up horror, the film displays plenty of blurred genre lines. It plays out as a darkly ominous family drama. It succeeds by being sparing with its terror and scares, as well as any details of the backstories of the three characters.
The script allows room for nightmarish thoughts of past violence and abuse to creep out of the shadows and dark corners. Questions and doubts about whether Steve is actually telling the truth or not are kept well under wraps until strictly necessary. An effective chiller then, dealing well with the traumatic effects of social isolation.
On more of a down side, the final third loses some of its impact because the scenes and dialogue that came before were so shadowy and oblique. Some of the decisions taken by Matt and Karen are somewhat odd (including turning up at their mentally fragile brother’s place unannounced in the first place), and don’t completely fit with their framing as the ones showing common sense and logic in the face of Steve’s unpredictability.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.