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FrightFest 2019: I Trapped The Devil

Writer/Director: Josh Lobo

Starring: Scott Poythress, A.J. Bowen, Susan Burke

When Matt (A.J. Bowen) and his wife, Karen (Susan Burke), pay a Christmas visit to his brother, Steve (Scott Poythress), they find him all but boarded up in the brothers’ childhood home.  Upon arrival things seem amiss, the place is a mess and Steve demands they leave, clearly unhinged.  Despite that, Matt and Karen stay and discover that Steve has a man locked in the cellar, a man he believes is the Devil. Initial Reactions C. The latest entry into the mumblegore genre (the horror subgenre of mumblecore) has all the essentials; one location, a couple actors, character driven, minimal spectacle, dysfunctional family drama, and of course, A.J. Bowen. I realize the way it was phrased suggests a negative connotation which isn’t the case at all. There have been great mumblegore films over the last decade that shaped modern horror (You’re NextHouse of the DevilCheap Thrills). I found I Trapped the Devil to work as a slow burn based around a moral conundrum. I will say though like many in this niche genre, you definitely have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. It’s something that would be best suited for prose, where you could get into the internal thoughts of the characters. The Devil (or victim) is trapped behind a door and only speaks a handful of times, which leaves you wishing he/she was tied up or trapped in another way where the main characters could interact with him/her. This would offer more tension and the whole “Devil playing a game with mortals” device that helps push the plot forward. With that, my other major concern is we find out early on if the trapped individual is actually the Devil or not. The problem with knowing so early on is we (the audience) are no longer guessing if Steve is crazy or not. Instead we spend the whole second half of the movie just waiting for the outcome that we know is coming. It is set during the Christmas season but that is a jumping off point to get the movie going, there’s nothing that makes this a Christmas horror movie. For the most part I enjoyed the movie for what it was. I knew where it was going and I checked the time during the dragging moments but the acting is superb (A.J. BOWEN!) and it was a nice little dread-soaked movie that showed great competency in Josh Lobo’s direction. J. Again, the old “is he crazy” or did he really “trap the devil” situation.  The actors are all solid as I think we’ll all agree.  I find Bowen to be endlessly watchable so the fact that the others are all solid makes for an interesting take on a play-type of production.  Jocelin Donahue is also present but in a role much too minimal for her talent.  She needed a bigger part goddammitt!  I find that I enjoy the set up of whether a character is nuts or telling a highly improbable tale and this one was no different for me, save for the fact that the question is answered too soon.  There’s some wicked hallucinogenic style imagery where we are left to wonder if it’s the influence of the devil or a whacked out, deranged mind but it’s fun to experience either way.  The trapped man (or devil) is somehow a bit unsettling even though we never actually see him and only have the sound of his voice to note his presence.  I also wondered why after Steve admits what he’s done and Matt and his wife lead an interrogation into his thought process, they never ask him what made him kidnap what he thought was the devil.  That seems like a pretty important question to me that no one thinks to ask poor Steve.  Did he look at you the wrong way?  Did he call you an asshole?  Did he talk about your mother sucking cocks in hell sorta thing?  I dunno and we’ll never know either.   Anyway, this is a film that you will most likely either really like or probably won’t.  I mostly enjoyed the experience myself.   K.  The film is a three hander between Poythress, Bowen and Burke, and each turns in a solid performance.  The cinematography and lighting are well conceived, juxtaposing the cheerful holiday with the chaotic old house that’s gone to pot.  Unfortunately, the writing causes the narrative to stall out several times along the way.  The main tension is drawn from the situation of the man in the cellar, is he the Devil or is Steve crazy?  A situation that could pretty easily come to a head if one were to open the door and let the detained man out to determine whether or not he is, in fact, the Devil.  However, in an effort to maintain that tension and draw it out for the climax, the story meanders, dragging out its simple setup to an unsatisfying conclusion.   Lobo shows definite talent as a filmmaker, but this effort feels like a short film that’s been stretched out far too long, which is a shame because the actors and crew do the best they can under the circumstances. 


Response C. I think there’s no denying the acting talent with the movie (could’ve been a play), as that’s really all we got to grasp onto. For fans of the mumblecore genre, you’re going to feel right at home. For me? I was fine with the pacing and style but I can see it’s something I was fortunate enough to be in the mood for during my screening. It must be approached as a character-study rather than trying to experience it based on the plot or horror elements. If you try, the meandering will stand out. Was it fresh, inventive, unique, whatever? No. But like every critique I have for this movie it will keep coming full circle to “but the acting was great!”, so to stop me from rambling let’s end here. J. Yeah, the plot is thinner than paper to be sure but that isn’t really an issue for me but I know it will be for all the impatient fuckers out there. I think we’ve laid out pretty well (all we can with no spoilers) what you can expect from this one. K. I definitely fall into the impatient fuckers category with this one. “Please, please, please, get on with it” is what I kept saying to myself. Bloodhound’s average score: 3.5 out of 5