×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘I Trapped the Devil’

There's either a poor hostage or something much worse locked in the basement in this intriguing if somewhat underwritten horror opus.

Director:
Josh Lobo
With:
Scott Poythress, AJ Bowen, Susan Burke, Jocelin Donahue, Chris Sullivan, Rowan Russell, John Marriott.
Release Date:
Apr 26, 2019

1 hour 24 minutes

Official Site: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/i-trapped-the-devil

“I Trapped the Devil” sounds like the title of a sermon or gospel song, but it’s a very literal-minded statement coming from the mouth of a leading character in writer-director Josh Lobo’s debut feature. This being a horror film, there’s a chance he’s even literally correct, rather than simply mad. A mixed-bag frightfest, IFC’s limited theatrical release doesn’t ultimately provide quite enough reward for a slow buildup. But it proves Lobo an able helmer (if one who could probably use a co-writer next time), eking decent atmospherics and good performances within a potentially claustrophobic premise.

In a framing device, two policemen break into a seemingly empty house where something is intangibly amiss. As they’re just about to find out what that is, the film jumps back several hours earlier, when others are arriving at the same house. Matt (AJ Bowen) and wife Karen (Susan Burke) have shown up unannounced around Christmastime at the rambling old place he presumably grew up in, concerned about the welfare of his incommunicado brother Steve (Scott Poythress), who still lives here. He’s not happy about the intrusion, immediately ordering them to leave, which directive they simply ignore.

After a while (in which Karen pokes around upstairs, finding a loaded gun under a bed), Matt takes his brother aside to tell him what’s really going on. This confiding is enough to convince Matt that, “There’s something wrong with Steve. He might be dangerous.” After all, he’s got a “man in the basement,” and is claiming that person is no less than the Devil — or at least “something evil” that’s “conjured itself into the shape of a man.” It is soon duly sussed that there is someone locked behind a door and calling for help in the cellar.

Popular on Variety

It is naturally assumed that Steve has snapped tether, trapping some poor soul in his delusional state. An attic whose walls are lined with crazy-conspiracy-theory “evidence,” windows covered over with newspaper, crosses everywhere, and his own manic demeanor suggest as much. But when Karen slips off at one point to secretly release the captive, she too experiences some primal terror that stops her short.

“I Trapped the Devil” undergoes a certain slackening in tension around the two-thirds point, just before the climactic action begins. But a bigger problem is that Lobo’s script doesn’t deliver quite enough payoff, either in revealing what’s behind that cellar door, or illuminating the murkily-hinted-at family issues in the brothers’ shared past. The three principal actors are fine, but they could have been given a bit more character substance to chew on, and it’s not as though the film doesn’t have the time to provide it. As is, “Trapped” doesn’t develop its own ideas sufficiently that the story mightn’t have fit just as well into a one-hour or even half-hour TV horror omnibus format.

Nonetheless, it’s well-crafted, particularly given the potential pitfalls of a narrative basically limited to one interior in which not much happens until the last act. As director and editor, Lobo gets a lot out of that little, maintaining a credible, skeptical, character-focused yet ominous mood. Visually, the film has considerable flair: DP Bryce Holden’s lensing makes vivid use of colored lighting gels, while production designer Karleigh Engelbrecht and art director Sage Alice Griffin lend the house interior quite a bit of personality — no contribution going over the line into over-stylized excess. Veteran indie-film composer Ben Lovett (“Sun Don’t Shine,” “The Wind,” “The Signal”) contributes a strong score.

Indeed, nearly every individual component to “I Trapped the Devil” is sufficiently capable that one wishes the script had gone that extra mile to make those elements combine into something memorable, as opposed to just passably diverting.

Film Review: 'I Trapped the Devil'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, April 25, 2019. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: An IFC Midnight release of a Yellow Veil Pictures production. Producers: Spence Nicholson, Rowan Russell, Scott Weinberg, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Susan Burke. Executive producers: Peter Kibbee, Aurora Lobo.

Crew: Director, writer: Josh Lobo. Camera (color, HD): Bryce Holden. Editor: Lobo. Music: Ben Lovett.

With: Scott Poythress, AJ Bowen, Susan Burke, Jocelin Donahue, Chris Sullivan, Rowan Russell, John Marriott.

More Film

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega Apologizes for 'Badly Worded' Comments He Made in Variety Interview

    John Boyega has apologized for comments made to Variety that some readers construed as an attack on his “Star Wars” co-star Kelly Marie Tran. Boyega took to Twitter on Thursday to clarify his remarks to Variety’s Adam B. Vary that social media was a tough environment “for those who are not mentally strong” and that [...]

  • Lee Joon-dong (left)

    Jeonju Festival Appoints 'Burning' Producer Lee Joon-dong as Director

    The Jeonju International Film Festival has appointed leading art-house producer Lee Joon-dong (“Burning”) as its director. The festival is usually regarded as the second most significant in South Korea, behind Busan. The appointment was announced on Wednesday by Kim Seung-su, chairman of the festival’s organizing committee. It follows several months of internal discord and the [...]

  • Warner Bros. Pictures trailer launch event

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu Tease 'In the Heights' Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical. “I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy [...]

  • One for the Road

    Wong Kar-wai to Produce 'Bad Genius' Director’s 'One For The Road'

    Wong Kar-wai is producing “One For The Road,” a new film that reunites the director and star of 2017 Thai hit “Bad Genius.” Production in New York and Thailand will begin by the end of the year. The film is a buddy drama and a road movie that sees two old friends who have been [...]

  • Jesse Eisenberg

    Film News Roundup: Jesse Eisenberg to Star in Indie Thriller 'Wild Indian' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s film news roundup, Jesse Eisenberg is starring and exec producing “Wild Indian”; Jason Bateman is directing “Shut In”; “Saturday Night Live” veteran Paula Pell is honored; and the Palm Springs Film Festival sets its opening and closing films. CASTING Jesse Eisenberg is starring in and executive producing the independent thriller “Wild Indian,” Variety [...]

  • disney d23

    Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Disney's Box Office Dominance

    The domestic box office market share over the last 12 years provides a sobering reminder of how important franchises are to studio performance, especially for Disney. Although the 2019 box office looks to be falling short of the previous year’s total, Disney is ending the decade on the highest possible note, becoming the first studio ever [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content