The Devil has proven to be a reliable go-to villain for horror movies. From the Satanic panic movies of the 1970’s to demonic possession flicks, Satan – whether as a physical entity or a psychological mechanism – is tried and true horror narrative. IFC Midnight release – and one of 2019’s better horror movies – I Trapped the Devil is a somewhat unconventional approach to the subject matter. More psychological than overt horror, Josh Lobo’s early 2019 release stretched an intriguing idea into a successfully atmospheric horror feature.
On Christmas, Matt and his wife, Karen, make an unexpected visit to his estranged brother, Steve. Upon their arrival, Steve gives them a cold welcome, urging them to leave. After some prodding, a shaken Steven tells his brother that he’s locked the devil in his basement. Sure enough, Matt and Karen hear a man pleading to be let out from a room boarded up with a crucifix. But Steve won’t let them leave or let the man out of the room. Is Steve very ill or has he indeed ‘trapped’ the devil?
I Trapped the Devil an Atmospheric Christmas Horror Treat
From its opening scene, I Trapped the Devil establishes a thick feeling of dread over the proceedings. Despite the lack of overt scares or jumps, director Josh Lobo uses both his premise and tone to maintain an edge-of-your-seat experience. Little things are exploited to generate palpable tension. Whether it’s flashing images on the television or ‘the trapped man’s’ voice, I Trapped the Devil finds ways to keep its grasp on your attention. Expect a slow-burn with just a few teases about just who is trapped in the basement. Lobo plays with expectations as much as possible in the movie’s limited setting.
Little things are exploited to generate palpable tension.
In addition to Lobo’s steady hand, subtle performances invest I Trapped the Devil with a sense of stakes. Aside from horror veteran AJ Bowen (You’re Next, Satanic Panic), you’re not likely to recognize the small cast. As the unstable Steve, Scott Poythress gives a unique performance that adds some unpredictability. On one hand, Poythress’ ‘Steve’ is clearly unstable but he’s also sad and sympathetic. Don’t expect an over-the-top performance. As a result, Steve’s danger to his family is never obvious, which makes some scenes shocking. Not surprisingly, Bowen, as well as Susan Burke, are completely believable in their respective roles. It’s their performance that anchor the premise, adding a sense of believability to what unfolds.
Thin Premise Holds Up For Most of the Movie
Despite its simple – maybe even thin – premise, I Trapped the Devil holds up from start to finish. And it is indeed a simple story. Moreover, Lobo’s Christmas horror limits itself to a single setting with a handful of characters. Add a limited budget and an inevitable landing place for its ending, and I Trapped the Devil can’t help but lag a little in the middle. To his credit, Lobo finds ways to add additional creeps to the proceedings. A sad backstory, only alluded to in the movie, keeps you engaged and actively trying to decipher what’s happening.
Add a limited budget and an inevitable landing place for its ending, and I Trapped the Devil can’t help but lag a little in the middle.
In regards to its ending, some viewers may be disappointed depending on expectations. Contrary to an M Night Shyalaman movie, I Trapped the Devil doesn’t drop a major jaw-dropping twist. Like most of the movie, Lobo’s climax is ambiguous. It’s also as bleak as its winter setting, and true to the one of dread established from its opening frame. Arguably, Lobo’s ending is true to the movie and its tone. I Trapped the Devil doesn’t work because it makes you jump. This is a movie that gets under your skin and elicits discomfort. Similarly, its ending is likely to linger and frustrate in equal measures.
I Trapped the Devil Offers Enough Dread and Atmosphere to Stretch Its Premise
Consistent with some of the past criticisms, I Trapped the Devil certainly stretches a thin premise. Fortunately, it’s both a damn interesting premise and a movie that maintains a foreboding atmosphere from start to finish. And at under 90 minutes, it’s easy to forgive I Trapped the Devil for dragging just a little in the middle. Ultimately, even without its nihilistic atmosphere, the premise promises a payoff that, while ambiguous, still delivers.