When the Devil knocks at your door, he doesn’t have cloven hooves. He is beautiful and offers you your heart’s desire in whispered airs, like a siren beckoning you to ruinous shore. Or maybe he’s a digital assistant app on your Galaxy S9. Something like that.
The intersection of smartphones with pure, unadulterated evil is well-trodden territory. If you’ve ever used Apple Maps for directions, you know exactly what I mean. Why would anyone in this circle of pretty, teenaged friends sweat Mr. Bedevil, though? For an AI, he’s a heck of a conversationalist. He can make restaurant recommendations like nobody’s business. He can close your garage door if you can’t shake the nagging feeling that you left it open on your way to school. This new app even comes highly recommended from someone they love and trust.
Okay, that certain someone just dropped dead at the age of 18, seemingly from intense fright, and they all received a post-mortem app invitation from the late Nikki’s phone, but still…! It’s not as if the app has “devil” in its name or anything.
Think Freddy Krueger meets Siri. I’m not just saying that because voice commands are critical for a guy whose razor-fingers don’t work so great with a touchscreen. The movie’s hellspawned app is such a powerful and effective digital assistant because he knows everything about you, down to that which you fear the most. Rather than monetize via in-app purchases, Mr. Bedevil’s currency of choice is terror. He can cross the digital divide to unleash clowns, racist cops, creepy and unusually spry grandmas, monstrous teddy bears, or whatever else leaves you reaching for a nightlight in the wee hours.
Yeah, ‘Bedeviled’ sticks to the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ playbook. Teenagers are tormented with their deepest fears. Mr. Bedevil knocks ’em off one by one. The last couple of straggling survivors are stuck finding a way to uninstall the Devil. Since I know you want to ask, yes, they try factory resets, leaving their phones far, far away, and even stomping them like grapes. No dice. What, do you really think a firewall is gonna stop the Devil?
This works out better for us as viewers than it does for Nikki’s quickly dwindling group of friends. Mr. Bedevil feeds off fear, and the guy obviously craves a full meal. These kids know they’re being hunted, so you don’t have Jason Voorhees stepping out from behind a corner and swiftly jabbing an arrow through somebody’s neck. Their terror is prolonged. Also, the “fears come to life” angle opens ‘Bedeviled’ up to imagery stranger and more surreal than a standard issue slasher could deliver. It’s a perfect date night horror flick if your special someone is game for being scared but is on the squeamish side. All of the deaths take place off-screen, and there’s no gore to speak of whatsoever. Plenty of movies struggle with that approach, but ‘Bedeviled’ pulls it off, feeling more like spookhouse scares rather than a cop-out.
‘Bedeviled’ is an impressively polished production, from its slick cinematography to its ambitious visual effects. It also benefits from a capable cast, steering clear of the obnoxiously over-the-top archetypes that frequently litter these sorts of movies. Each character has a distinct personality without necessarily being reduced to one singular trait. They’re also believable enough as a group of friends. I do wish that the survivors were shown struggling more with the parade of death around them, though. There’s not a whole lot of grieving going on here, and I’d swear that a couple of lost friends go completely unacknowledged. That’s pretty much in keeping with the movie’s habit of introducing minor plot points and never doing much of anything with them, such as a whole to-do with a hot tamale of a teacher, or Mr. Bedevil getting his hands on some amateur porn.
We’re not talking about some grueling, unnervingly visceral movie that sets out to redefine the face of horror or whatever. ‘Bedeviled’ cheerfully embraces every trope under the sun. You won’t have to sleep with the lights on afterwards. While it isn’t the least bit terrifying or original, that really doesn’t even seem to be the point. It’s exactly the movie it sets out to be: a fun, kinda-sorta spooky ride with a couple of really solid jolts. If you think of Netflix as the county fair, then ‘Bedeviled’ is the Jaycees Haunted House – familiar, a little cornball, but still a good time.
My apologies to ‘Penny Dreadful’ for cribbing its beautifully poetic dialogue to lead into my “What if Siri were the Devil?” column. Hey, it beats the hoary “killer app” pun you were probably expecting. ‘Bedeviled’ is currently streaming on Netflix and is also available on VOD.