Josh Lobo’s directorial debut sits somewhere between a character study of a maddening mind and the retro-chic stylings of films like The House of the Devil and Darling. Presented in an even more slow-burn aesthetic than the previously mentioned films, I Trapped the Devil holds its own by dealing thought-provoking discussion that gets the gears turning and, unfortunately, not much else.
All alone on Christmas, Steve (Scott Poythress) sets his sights on hunkering down and saving the world by trapping what he believes to be the devil in the basement of his home. Steve’s brother Matt (AJ Bowen), along with his wife Karen (Susan Birke), decide to extend an olive branch by surprising the troubled brother for a holiday dinner. A situation that Steve clearly does not want, but he caves to the persistence of his family. Eventually, the estranged brother discovers Steve’s secret and must decide what to do next.
Dialogue and action are incredibly sparse in a film that already sheds bulk with production and scope. Matt and Karen uncover the clues and develop the plot by touring the house and listening to Steve’s Alex Jones level rants about the boogeyman and the collapse of society as we know it. The dialogue is strong, but the film suffers from the weight of madman tropes including a room covered in newspaper clippings and red yarn pinned to show connection, although, funny enough, the pinned points and yarn trails are distractingly pointless and look more like scattered set dressing.
As strong as the acting and writing are for the majority of the film, there is no denying the absolute absurdity in the events that lead up to the final shot of the film. The ending isn’t bad, it is more in the non-action of the police officers that arrive at the house. Dead bodies are discovered, shots are fired, yet no one radios it in? The final moments of the film are fitting given the establishment that has assembled over the previous 70 minutes and the emotional punch works incredibly well. The only real problem with I Trapped the Devil is its dull pacing that seems to drag, especially when Steve goes on and on proving his paranoia.
Not exactly a hard-R rating, I Trapped the Devil features some blood, a sprinkle of brain matter, language, scrambled televisions, and dumb cops. Fans of slow-burn arthouse horror should definitely take notice, just don’t expect much payoff.