Many effective horror films unsettle their characters by forming a narrative of doubt. We, as an audience, share these emotions of uncertain fear and a desire to find out. It is this exact sense of dubiousness that I TRAPPED THE DEVIL, Josh Lobo’s feature directorial debut, uses to great effect.
The film follows Matt (AJ Bowen), a man who arrives with his wife Karen (Susan Burke) to his brother’s house as a surprise for the Christmas holidays. Once inside the house, they realise that this brother is harbouring a dangerous secret – he claims he has caught the devil and trapped him in his basement. The house acts a character in and of itself, similar to the infamous Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING. The banisters are intertwined with ornate lights, saturating the scene in a campy neon glow, not dissimilar to the 70s and 80s giallo films of Dario Argento. Lobo seems more than happy to wear his influences on his sleeve, not drawing direct references but passing glances of some famous horror films.
Matt’s brother, Steve, is played by Scott Poythress, in the best performance of the film. He is the central role, a man so completely involved with his own delusions (or his own reality?) that his perception of the world around him has become completely skewed. When he shows his brother the attic of the house, where he has created an excessively detailed map of all people that may have been affected by the evil the Devil has caused, the film shifts. The film no longer feels like horror but a conspiracy thriller. These disjointed jumps between different genres hinder the film, however: it struggles to find its footing and create a wholly effective atmosphere.
The slow pace of the film (at odds with the short 80 minute run time) means that Lobo has the time to build his environment around his characters, and let them breathe before he throws them into the nightmarish fever dream trapped in the basement, lit in a blood-red light that creates a damning and hellish atmosphere. This pace is too slow at stages, especially in its third act, where the film starts to lose its way and crumbles into more generic horror fare instead of challenging the audience. The film manages to uphold a tense atmosphere and, nevertheless, has its fair number of scares – though never really from the Devil himself, and more from its devilish captor.