Earlier this month, IFC Midnight released the first trailer for a brand-new film called I Trapped the Devil. The film is writer/director Josh Lobo’s debut, and looked to me like it promised to be quite the slow-burner. And now that I’ve seen it, I can say for a fact that it delivered on that promise.
The story opens with husband and wife Matt (AJ Bowen) and Karen (Susan Burke) traveling to Matt’s brother, Steve’s (Scott Poythress), house to spend the holidays. The brothers have been estranged for some time, which is seemingly unrelated to a specific event and rather symptomatic of looking at your family members and seeing very little of yourself reflected back—different lifestyles, personalities, ways of thinking.
But, alas, since the holidays are for shoving true feelings down as deeply as they’ll go in favor of superficial smiles that’ll please your stranger siblings, Karen and Matt arrive at Steve’s, totally unaware that he has a man that he believes to be the devil trapped in his basement.
Now, when I say that I Trapped the Devil is a slow-burner of a film, I mean that, unfortunately, to a fault in this case. Though the runtime falls right in my sweet spot at a modest and usually very solid hour and 22 minutes, it felt to me like this story had trouble filling out the entire 82-minute mould—especially when I started taking stock of what had happened or, more honestly, hadn’t happened at around 40 to 45 minutes in.
The concept itself—this bastion of evil presenting as a human being that you now have imprisoned—is interesting by nature, just because it inspires so much intellectual and moral reasoning and debate straight out of the gate. It’s a concept that can be approached from so many different angles, while still presenting super simply: a human being trapped in a room, or, for most of I Trapped the Devil, a pleading voice ringing out from behind a locked door.
All of this breathing room with which to tell your story makes having a really strong and tight one—a narrative consistently deliberate in choosing what angle within this concept to exploit—absolutely imperative.
Is the main focus whether or not who or what Steve has trapped in the basement is really the devil? Is the main focus Steve’s sanity, or potentially lack thereof? Is the maybe-devil locked in the basement being employed just as a frame narrative for an intense family drama?
These questions and focuses are casually in competition with each other throughout the entirety of I Trapped the Devil and made it hard for me to discern the characters’ motivations. In a movie in which a lot is constantly going on or happening, these issues might be less important because you’re being dealt consistent distraction. But the handful of effectively sinister sequences in this film were too few and far between, leaving me with, frankly, too much time to think about what wasn’t happening.
In all, I Trapped the Devil left me wanting but featured enough of the good stuff to get me excited about Josh Lobo and his burgeoning evolution as a writer and director in the genre. If you’re interested in a little taste of Christmas in April, the film is available now in select theaters and on-demand from IFC Midnight.
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