I Trapped the Devil is a film that dares to ask some really complicated questions about the nature of evil. It ruminates on them and uses the lack of a concise answer to enhance the uncertainty of its atmosphere and to create a mood that is deeply unsettling.
Matt (AJ Bowen) and Karen (Susan Burke) decide to visit Matt’s estranged brother Steve (Scott Poythress) for Christmas. Their relationship is rocky, but Karen wants the couple to make the effort to reach out and bridge the gap. When they arrive, they notice immediately that Steve is acting strangely. At first, he seems overly nervous and jumpy, but as we spend more time with him, we begin to see the depth of his paranoia. Something is definitely not right. They soon learn what. Locked in Steve's basement is a man that Steve claims is the Devil himself. Has Steve lost his mind completely, or is there something more to the man behind the locked door?
The most successful films that play with the devil are the ones that embrace subtlety. He is an element that can easily be overplayed and come across as hokey. Here, writer/director Josh Lobo employs a minimalist approach; in the early parts of the film, he asks the audience and the characters to determine if there could be some validity to Steve's story, or if it is completely in his head and he kidnapped and imprisoned an ordinary man. As our story develops further and we are brought deeper into the state of Steve’s mind and the tragedies that he has endured, we being to see that the truth is actually much more complex.
Atmosphere reigns supreme in this film and Lobo uses it to every advantage. Though the house is covered in Christmas decorations, it remains somehow cold. A constantly fuzzy TV makes our characters feel strangely disconnected from the outside world. The red lighting in the basement near the room in which the prisoner is held reminds us that evil, in whatever form it may take, is close at hand.
At the center of it all is the damage these characters have endured. The cast is fantastic and really sells the shaky dynamic between the members of this family. Bowen and Poythress play the estranged relationship well before it is even apparent that something is going on in the house. Poythress does an amazing job at selling the mental and emotional state that Steve is in. He captures the distress and hopelessness of a man who has lost everything and is left on the brink. Whether or not the man downstairs is the actual devil, we see Steve’s cracked spirit walking the line between truth and delusion, and we feel for him.
I Trapped the Devil is a beautifully complicated film that doesn’t shy from addressing big concepts. It asks questions that have no easy answers and taps into an existential horror that is frightfully unnerving. Its deliberate pace may not appeal to all viewers, but if you allow it to, it will work its way into your mind and find a quiet corner to haunt.
Movie Score: 4/5