By Jordan Gerdes
Josh Lobo’s directorial debut is one that will sit with you far after the credits roll. Matt(AJ Bowen) and his wife, Karen(Susan Burke),go to surprise his brother, Steve(Scott Poythress), around Christmas, hoping for a long awaited reunion. Instead, his finds something amiss in their family home. The windows are boarded up, covered with newspapers. The house is adorned in crucifixes, doors are barricades, and Steve is less than happy to see his brother. Steve believes he has trapped the devil in his basement. Matt and Karen aren’t sure if he is telling the truth, if he is hallucinating, or if he has a hostage locked up downstairs.
As viewers, we experience Steve’s mental state through the eyes of Karen and Matt. Karen finds a loaded gun under a mattress. Matt is shown Steve’s evidence, an attic covered in newspaper clippings, connected with red string in a heinous looking spiderweb. Phone calls Steve receives with no one on the other end. It is clear that Steve has snapped.
For a slow burn narrative that happens in one interior space, Lobo works wonders with the film. There is tension at the correct moments, it slackens when it needs a breath. The lighting is otherworldly, deep colors used against a dark background. It feels gritty, like a dirty Christmas. It’s claustrophobic. It’s paranoid. It captures the stillness that is winter. It hits the tone just right.
Lobo crafts a truly chilling film based on a simple premise. What if the person you loved claimed they captured the Devil? It never lets up on the premise while also making sure the viewer questions the sanity of every character involved. This feels like the darker episodes of The Twilight Zone, with a bit of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, psychological horror with real stakes. At the end of the day, there is either a poor hostage locked in a basement or there is something much much worse going on. Lobo leverages the entire concept on Poythress’ performance and that gamble pays off tenfold. Scott Poythress is absolutely chilling in this.
The ending is something extremely special. It will sit with you while you try to wrap your head around it and what just happened. Lobo gives you all the clues early on without tipping his hand at all. I Trapped The Devil is a film that comes along ever so often, completely punching outside its weight class. It is destined to be a cult Christmas classic in no time. Expect this on year end lists everywhere.