I Trapped the Devil (2019)
written by Hope Madden
Jordan Peele is not the only one preoccupied with The Twilight Zone. First time filmmaker Josh Lobo obviously has a soft spot for one of their episodes.
Don’t look into which one, though. In fact, don’t even watch the trailer for Lobo’s indie horror I Trapped the Devil, because not knowing the outcome is half the fun.
Lobo takes us along on a Christmas visit with family. You know, those awkward gatherings where maybe your brother is a paranoid schizophrenic who keeps a man captive in his basement.
Or, maybe your brother’s right and that man is really Satan.
But let’s be honest. It’s probably the former.
As Steve (Scott Poythress) tries to convince brother Matt (AJ Bowen) and sister-in-law Karen (Susan Burke) that it’s really the latter, Lobo hovers over issues of family dysfunction, grief, and the evil in the world. He pulls none of those strings in a way that is particularly satisfying, but he is onto something.
The film’s narrative offers a nice subversion of horror’s standard “is she crazy or is there evil in the house” trope. Historically, the genre relies on some kind of common assumption about feminine hysteria to drive a tension that asks the audience to wonder whether we are witnessing a mental breakdown or whether the protagonist’s feminine intuition has led her to pick up on something malevolent.
I Trapped the Devil overturns those gender assumptions and grounds the tension in something more scientifically intriguing. Is Steve a violently disturbed man with a captive in his basement, or has he, indeed, trapped Satan?
We the audience are supposed to be weighing our options. How realistic is it that his family is kicking around the options? Not very.
Committed performances from the trio help develop a sympathetic mood. Still, Lobo struggles—as does his cast—to get reasonably from Point: There’s a Guy Locked in a Closet Downstairs to Point: No, Let’s Not Phone the Authorities Just Yet.
He also leaves too many unexplored ideas on the table: the maddening grief, the weird images on the staticky TV, how Steve got the guy down his basement in the first place.
A little ambiguity can lend to atmosphere. This much tends to feel more like lazy screenwriting.
There are flashes of real terror now and again, though, and the mystery of the man in the closet remains a tense one to the seriously creepy closing image. Lobo’s horror instincts are sound, and even though his knack for fleshing out details is lacking, his movie’s a pretty solid scare.