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The Devil Went Down to Islington (2023) Review

Tales of musicians who sold their soul for fame are common enough, Crossroads, Trick or Treat, Dark Roads 79 and The 27 Club are just a few examples. The Devil Went Down to Islington is a little different, however. It tells the tale of a music teacher who makes a Faustian bargain while drunk, only to panic when he realizes what he’s done.

It actually opens like a bizarre action film with Father Crowley (Michael Smiley, Gunpowder Milkshake, Kill List) using switchblade crosses to fight a pair of masked figures who are attacking a panicked man. He defeats them, but in the end Satan (Dominic Coleman, Napoleon, Paddington) claims another soul.

John Robertson (Spencer Brown, Shed of the Dead, Naked But Funny) Has had a morning from hell, and he hasn’t even sold his soul yet. He fails to save his cat from the garbage truck, then an Ofsted inspector shows up, that’s the British equivalent of having someone from the Department of Education pay you a visit. Worst of all, his friend Nick (James Lance, Hunted, Northern Soul)tells him that his crush Zoe (Sophie Colquhoun, Captain America: The First Avenger, Anti-Social) is leaving.

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Director Daniel Wilson (Doctors, Coronation Street) and writers Rutger Andrée Wiltens and Alex Martin lay it on thick, making John about as big a loser as it gets in the film’s first act. Unfortunately, much of it is predictable, and little of it is funny. You need to give viewers a reason to care for a character like John, rather than dismiss him as a loser. But he has no personality, let alone redeeming traits.

This leaves The Devil Went Down to Islington a character driven comedy with a black hole where the main character should be. As a result, Zoe’s suggestion that the two go out seems less believable than The Devil wandering around making deals for people’s souls. And it makes caring if he can undo his deal once he realizes hell awaits a difficult proposition.

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Many of the laughs the film does get come from the masked killers we saw in the prologue as they run around arranging nasty demises for an assortment of people, including a soccer team taken out by an electrified urinal and a woman impaled on an umbrella. The effects for these deaths are a mix of practical and CGI. The fact The Devil Went Down to Islington is a comedy makes the unrealistic looking CGI somewhat excusable, though.

The last half hour, in which the pair have to undo all the good they got from the deal in order to have a chance at saving themselves, does manage to be funny, especially with a last minute twist. But it’s really not enough to make up for the first hour. The highlight of that being some innocent scenes filmed from angles to make it look like Father Crowley and Nick are going at it. Original and edgy, right?

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Deal with the devil stories have potential, but The Devil Went Down to Islington seems to have been made by people with no feel for comedy. Certainly, the director’s credits are overwhelmingly composed of episodes of British soap operas. Of the writers, Wiltens has no other credits and Martin has a long of credits as a consultant on films like Await Further Instructions, and We Die Young. It’s like they thought writing a horror comedy was as easy as watching Shaun of the Dead a few times and copying its style.

In the end, comedy is a very subjective thing. So while I found little to laugh about, if you think jokes about killing cats and pissing are hysterical, you may find The Devil Went Down to Islington a lot funnier than I did. But I wouldn’t bet my soul on it.

The Devil Went Down to Islington is available on Digital Platforms in the UK and North America via Bulldog Films.

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