I Trapped the Devil
The horror genre’s subversive nature makes it a natural platform to take on some awfully big questions. I Trapped the Devil takes a long, hard look in humanity’s basement and you might not like what you see looking back at you.
Taking place over the course of one Christmas night, I Trapped the Devil starts with a reluctant reunion. Matt and Sarah (AJ Bowen and Susan Burke) drive a long way to meet Matt’s estranged brother, Steve (Scott Poythress). You’d think that the grand gesture and surprise visit on the holiday might be welcome, but when the house is in a sad state of disarray and Steve is visibly upset by their arrival, it’s apparent that there’s far more going on here than just typical family drama. As the night progresses, Matt and Sarah discover that Steve has a fortified door in his basement and the voice pleading for release from that holding cell might just be the Devil himself.
You see, beyond the sibling tension between the three humans upstairs, Steve is utterly convinced that he has managed to snag the Devil. His paranoia and odd behavior may be explained as mental illness, but what if Steve is correct and not crazy? Might it be possible that his protectiveness of the door in the basement is just good common sense when dealing with a demon?
I Trapped the Devil uses this predicament, and a Schrödinger-esque occupation in the space between sanity and insanity, to pose some massive questions. Through both dialogue and themes, the film looks at the nature of truth, the nature of evil, and the cusp between mania and possession. It offers no clear answers to these debates, but processing through the questions is one of the ways it engages the audience with the material.
It may sound like I Trapped the Devil is an absurdist dark comedy or a boring thought exercise, but the experience of watching it makes for a tense, slow-burn horror film. The darkness of the basement and the glowing red lights down there lend themselves to unblinking gazing while asking “What is evil?” The uncomplicated plot takes its time to slowly churn through the character’s relationships and soak in the Christmas lights and the fortified basement.
Bowen and Poythress absolutely nail their performances as a family with a deep and unspoken history. The film doesn’t include extended exposition on their relationship, so most of the chemistry between these two comes from non-verbal communication, and their delivery speaks volumes. We don’t ever need to know the specifics of their lives, but we’re also never left wondering how they feel about one another; we can clearly see it.
The deliberate pacing and heavy topics might alienate certain audiences from I Trapped the Devil, but those are also its strengths.