I Trapped the Devil is the feature debut of Josh Lobo, who also wrote, produced, and edited the film. Had I not known going into the film that this was the case, I would not have guessed it to be his directorial debut. Lobo has created a world that seems lived in, with an instantly familiar sense of time and place. The film is a tightly plotted tale of paranoia and evil that gets under your skin and refuses to let go until after its shocking finale and the credits have rolled.
AJ Bowen and Susan Burke star as Matt and Karen, a married couple paying an unexpected visit to Matt’s brother Steve (Scott Poythress) during the holidays. Snow covers the ground, and Christmas lights cast their merry glow – but all is not well with Steve. When they arrive, Matt and Karen find the house’s doors blocked and its windows covered. Shell casings glint in the snow outside.
After forcing his way into the house, Matt finds Steve. Steve seems distant, haunted – and none too pleased to have unexpected guests. In a half-hearted show of hospitality, Steve serves an awkward holiday meal to the couple. It’s obvious that something is not right. The phone rings repeatedly; Steve answers it but says nothing before hanging up. His face belies the fact that something has him spooked. Steve nervously asks Matt if he’d been followed.
Soon, Steve reveals his secret to his brother. In his basement, secured behind locks and crosses, Steve believes he has captured the Devil himself. Throughout the house there are boxes of newspapers and historical records. Walls are covered with clippings and illustrations, forming a pattern that only Steve seems to understand. He is dead set in his determination that the source and seed of (capital-E) Evil has been imprisoned in his basement.
The story that plays out is reminiscent of classic Satanic horror films of the 1970s and 1980s. I Trapped the Devil feels inspired by films such as The Sentinel and Prince of Darkness, among others. And like the best films from the genre, I Trapped the Devil serves as a study of its main characters, both inviting us to and challenging us to relate to them.
The film’s three main actors – Bowen, Burke, and Poythress – imbue their characters with a relatable sense of humanity. In spite of each character’s flaws, they seem to genuinely care for one another. Because of this, we also care when the events of the story take a turn for the worse.
Also worthy of note is the score and sound design of the film. Obvious care and attention went into crafting the audio aspects of I Trapped the Devil. The second time I watched the film, I did so wearing a set of decent headphones, and several different times I found myself stealing a glance over my shoulder or into the darkened corners of the room. The closest comparison I can make is to the first time I played the original Silent Hill. I Trapped the Devil’s sound design is diabolically effective.
Overall, I Trapped the Devil is a worthwhile addition to the pantheon of Satanic horror films from the last fifty years. The movie uses its small cast and claustrophobic setting to its advantage. When the film ended, I was replaying certain moments in my mind and was already looking forward to a second watch. Fans of the genre should seek it out at their earliest opportunity.
I Trapped the Devil will be unleashed to select cinemas and VOD on Friday, April 26th.
‘I Trapped the Devil’ Marks the Debut of a Director to Watch [Review]
An impressive feature debut from director Josh Lobo that can stand proudly beside similar films from horror’s history.