I Trapped the Devil  Review: An unengaging genre film serving as an allegory for alienation
The horror of the unknown is always scarier than the one we could see. Recent films released by the new kings of independent cinema – A24 have really dug deep into the idea of the unknown. Similar to slow burning horror chillers produced by the said studio – The Witch, It Comes at Night and Hereditary, in particular, this IFC Midnight presentation hinges it’s horror thrills on the idea of the unknown. While I Trapped the Devil gets the atmosphere right – With the Christmas lights setting a great backdrop for trippy imagery, the narrative really sticks out as something that is so indulged with its single line idea that it never really traps itself in a dramatically tense narrative that creeps in the thrills.
Christmas is about reuniting with the family after having chosen one’s life in different places due to more important things. However in “I Trapped the Devil,” Matt (AJ Bowen) and Karen (Susan Burke) revisit their family home to meet Matt’s lived-in brother Steve (Scott Poythress) only to find things displaced and especially paranoid to a whole new level. While Steve seems completely unwelcoming on the offset, he slowly allows his brother and partner to stay seeming too disturbed to reveal what is really bothering him as of yet.
As the film starts amping the tension with glittering visuals and on-point use of a terrific score by Ben Lovett, the central conflict of the entire thing arrives. Steve claims to have trapped the devil himself in the houses’ basement. While this seems like an entirely unforgiving and sick holiday joke to Matt and Karen, they decide to play-along as Karen want the supposedly estranged brothers to reengage with each other.
This is where Josh Lobo’s one line idea really starts falling apart. There’s not enough meat here to keep this chamber piece trapped in its own set of limitations. The intial paranoia that Lobo had set up with his lurid visuals and a special liking to slow-burning narrative plot threads starts getting more and more out of hand. The film at one point seems to self-parody its own premise as a few scenes seem to be designed especially to run in a loop that gives little girth to the entire thing.
The acting is particularly lackluster and bland. Scott Poythress who is supposed to hold this wobbling film together often goes overboard with his paranoia acting out in a laughable manner. While I enjoyed how Lobo didn’t focus on jump scares or other cliched horror troops, I was really bumped out that his idea that really floats along with a psychologically deranged territory never trust it’s own limitations to get under the skin. The film, which is really about the things that haunt us, never truly manages to bring either the trauma nor the horror of existence to the foreground. Lobo has an interesting eye for visual aesthetics but there’s not really anything else that I’d recommend here.