REVIEW: ‘I Trapped the Devil’ Shows What Happens When Faith Makes People Dangerous

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I Trapped the Devil - But Why Tho

From IFC Midnight, I Trapped the Devil is written and directed by Josh Lobo. The film follows a man named Matt (AJ Bowen) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke) as they arrive unannounced to spend the holidays with his estranged brother Steve (Scott Poythress). But this isn’t a Christmas miracle reunion, instead they see Steve descend into paranoia after they find a man trapped in the basement. But to Steve, the man isn’t just a normal guy, but the devil himself.

To put it simply, I Trapped the Devil is slow-burn, meaning that there are no shocking moments in the beginning and instead the tension is built up in waves by sounds, music, and dialogue. When I came into the film, the premise seemed flimsy. Why wouldn’t his brother just save the guy? But as the film develops, you learn the strained relationship between the brothers makes the push and pull Matt is experiencing between Steve and his wife difficult on him.

As Steve maintains that he isn’t crazy, going so far as to say that he wishes that he was, Karen tries to pull Matt to the logical side, pushing him to call the police, to let the man out. But when she goes down there, she realizes that all isn’t well. The nature of I Trapped the Devil puts a lot of weight on the man behind the door, voiced by Chris Sullivan. In the basement, where evil is being kept in, while also keeping people out, as Karen points out, we see nothing remarkable. We see a door, locks, crosses, and we hear a voice. Slightly distorted but desperate all the same. A voice calling for his family, trying to plead to be let out.

While all we see is the door, Sullivan’s voice work is terrifying enough for every scene it is highlighted in. The man behind the door doesn’t say anything truly terrifying, with the exception of a couple of parts, but it hits you just the same. It’s all in Sullivan’s delivery of his dialogue that builds the film’s tension.  It chills you and messes with your thoughts, the same ways it has messed with those in the house.

Sullivan’s voice work is phenomenal, it is eerie, immersive, and carries the scenes while the excellent red lighting does the rest of the work. In fact, as Steve begins to descend further and further into madness and paranoia the film’s sets do too as the red lighting is kicked up to 11. The background drops out to black and incoherent images appear to him. Additionally, a sound design that aims to confuse the viewer puts you in his headspace.

Beyond the well-paced synthwave score ebbing and flowing, the sound design perfectly builds each scene. By using voice distortion and thunder, the film artfully crafts the fear and confusion in Steve’s mind. Figuring out what is taking place in Steve’s mind and what’s taking place in the real world becomes tough to watch as I Trapped the Devil goes on, but in a good way. The confusion the film purposefully creates leaves the viewer guessing and trying to find truth in Steve’s fear and faith.

Ultimately, the theme of I Trapped the Devil is faith. Steve’s faith leads him to lock the devil in his basement and Matt is unsure of where to put his faith, in his brother where he must leap blindly, or in what he knows to be true: the devil isn’t real and his brother is mentally unstable. Every time the film moves you to one camp, it pushes you into the other. Belief is subjective and as the film shows, each person’s experience dictates that and ultimately it is faith, as Karen says, that makes people dangerous.

The set design is minimalistic but perfect in its simplicity. Although the film itself is dark, the lighting is always well throughout and used to push the narrative and not just to create a moment that is hard to see.

That being said, there are some issues in I Trapped the Devil. As is the nature with slow-burning horror films, the pace can deter some viewers looking for high octane fear or even easy jump-scares. While this is not a critique, and in fact, it’s the development of tension is a strength of the film, with little happening visually in the front half of the film it requires the viewers to buy into the dialogue and the actor’s execution of it.

The acting in I Trapped the Devil takes some time to find its bearings with Bowen and Burke lacking chemistry as a married couple, in the beginning, delivering lines plainly. But as the story moves and Steve’s reality becomes the focus, the emotion and weight bring out the best in the cast, with Poythress delivering a heartbreaking and intense performance as Steve.

The only other issue I have with this film is that when the violence happens, it relies on the amount of blood instead of the act itself. When a murder involves a single gunshot the entire corner of a room shouldn’t be painted with blood. With blood covering the back of the body and the walls in front and beside it, I Trapped the Devil sadly relies on the mess to show the impact of the death. That being said, a small pool would have had the same effect, especially when the camera pulls in tight on the victim’s face.

Overall, the twist is slightly predictable for a movie in this subgenre, but it is executed well, with a lingering camera closing out the film. When the door finally opens, it is painfully slow and the music sound cut at you, and I mean that as a compliment.

As a horror fan who is always looking for holiday horror, this is one that will enter into my December rotation. Although it isn’t a film that is centered around the winter holidays, but rather just takes place during them, it somehow lives in the anxiety of having to come together with relatives during the giving and loving season. Even with its issues, I Trapped the Devil delivers a slow and cascading tension that peaks perfectly in a bloody conclusion.

I Trapped the Devil will be in limited release starting April 25th.

I Trapped the Devil
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    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

As a horror fan who is always looking for holiday horror, this is one that will enter into my December rotation. Although it isn’t a film that is centered around the winter holidays, but rather just takes place during them, it somehow lives in the anxiety of having to come together with relatives during the giving and loving season. Even with its issues, I Trapped the Devil delivers a slow and cascading tension that peaks perfectly in a bloody conclusion.

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