At first glance, The Diabolical seems like just another generic haunted house flick.  Single mom, Madison (played by Ali Larter), lives in a quiet suburban home with her two children.  There’s hints of tragedy that the family is working to overcome, which is further complicated by the paranormal activity that seems to occur nightly in their home.  In fact, the strange presence seems to have been pestering the trio long before the story begins.  When Madison has had enough, she enlists her physicist boyfriend Nikolai (Arjun Gupta) for help, and the film diverges wholly from the current paranormal trend.

In writer/director Alistair Legrand’s debut, the unexplained presence in the home is explored through science.  Madison does initially seek out ghost hunters and psychics for help and every one of them flee in terror.  It’s obvious from the outset that this isn’t your typical haunting, and Nikolai’s scientific approach to determining what exactly is happening in Madison’s home further illustrates that.  The story does venture into sci-fi territory, but to elaborate any further would be a disservice to this refreshing twist on a tired trope.

Unique concept aside, the premise hinges upon a single mother’s love for her children.  Madison’s oldest child, Jacob, struggles with anger management that has landed the family in serious legal trouble in the past, while little sister Haley seems oblivious that anything is out of the norm.  We’re meant to relate to the family in its authentic situation, but often the dynamics between the three feels contrived.  This largely has to do with the writing, particularly in scenes between mother and son, as well as fully fleshing out Madison as a character.  Madison lacks any development or arch, existing solely as a plot device.  As a result, her relationship with Nikolai also feels superficial.  Despite this, Ali Larter gives her performance her all.  Max Rose also impresses as troubled son, Jacob.  He conveys love for his sister and mother with believability.

While early scenes in which the presence physically manifest builds tension, the effect wears off the more the manifestations occur.  The more the computer generated entities remain on screen, the more they disappoint.  Especially when given a glimpse of the mangled, practical effect driven creature that pops up once or twice to torment Madison.  Also disappointing are the lingering questions regarding two of the entities.  There’s a throwaway line delivered by Madison offering up some vague explanation, but otherwise they seem to serve no purpose other than a few well-placed jump scares.  The finale, while exciting, also confounds at moments in its ambiguity.

Alistair Legrand explores hauntings with a fresh angle, opting for science fiction over traditional ghosts.  Legrand also wastes no time in setup, dropping the audience right into the paranormal activity from the opening sequence.  While you never truly feel connected to any of the characters in spite of the actors’ best efforts, Legrand keeps you engaged with the unpredictability of the overall mystery.  Overall an engaging new take on a well-worn story that entertains despite its flaws. XLR_Diabolical_1sht_Art_FINAL1_37C.indd