There’s a classic episode of the original Twilight Zone called “The Howling Man”. It involves an order of monks who have a man they claim is Satan locked in a cell. Is it? Or have they falsely imprisoned an innocent man? I Trapped The Devil, the first film from writer/director Josh Lobo transposes this idea to a house in America. How does it hold up to its inspiration?
Matt (AJ Bowen, Night Drive, Dead Night) and Steve (Scott Poythress) are brothers, brothers who’ve been estranged for years. It’s Christmas and Matt and his wife Karen (Susan Burke, Southbound) decide to stop by and mend fences.
Instead they find Steve has a secret. A man (Chris Sullivan, This Is Us, Stranger Things) is locked in his basement. Steve claims it’s the devil. Disbelief begins to turn to paranoia family loyalties come into play. Karen wants to get out and call the cops. Matt wants to find a way to protect his brother from the consequences of his actions. And strange images keep appearing in the static on the TV.
One of the amazing things about I Trapped The Devil is that prior to this Lobo’s only credit was as a member of the art department on Dave Made A Maze. And that makes this an even more impressive debut. With its tight, paranoid script and frequent use of an unsettling red light he keeps the tension mounting.
The main strength of I Trapped The Devil is the way it manages to keep just enough uncertainty in your mind to keep you guessing. Sure what Steve claims sounds far fetched but what’s with the images on the TV? Or the voices from behind the door? And regardless of whether it actually is Satan or not, how far will Steve go to keep his prisoner locked up?
The acting is solid, which it would have to be given the plot and small cast. Bowen and Poythress, (who were both in The Signal), are quite convincing as the very different brothers. Burke does a similarly good job of portraying the person caught between them.
I Trapped the Devil is a genuinely creepy film and a very auspicious debut for Lobo. IFC Midnight will release it to select cinemas and on VOD April 26th.