Josh Lobo’s writing and directing debut I Trapped the Devil oftentimes feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. More specifically, it is reminiscent of one episode in particular — episode 41 from 1960, “The Howling Man,” written by the legendary Charles Beaumont. Both stories deal with a person holding someone behind a locked door who he claims to be the Devil himself. Lobo’s riff on this tale offers some eerie moments, but gets bogged down in trying to stretch its story to feature length.
Matt (AJ Bowen of Satanic Panic  and You’re Next ) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke of Body at Brighton Rock  and Southbound ) drop in quite unexpectedly on Matt’s psychologically troubled brother Steve (Scott Poythress of The Signal ) on Christmas. Steve is not happy with this surprise intrusion, especially because of his situation with the unseen person he has locked away. He lets fly with conspiracy theories and paranoid rants, and as Matt tries to make sense of things while Karen insists on calling the police, the couple begin to have wavering thoughts about possible validities behind Steve’s ramblings.
There is plenty to like in I Trapped the Devil. Poythress, Burke, and Bowen all turn in terrific performances, with Poythress playing his character quite chillingly without crossing over into scenery-chewing territory. The set design adds to the claustrophobic feel of being trapped in Steve’s house. Ben Lovett’s eerie score wonderfully helps build tension and dread.
A great deal of unevenness is also on display, though, which keeps the film from reaching the full potential that it teases. The dialogue sometimes weighs things down, with some scenes slowing down the suspenseful pace that preceded them. Lobo lets loose early on with some hints as to who or what the person behind the door might be, which takes away from the climax of the film. Some of Steve’s characterization involves tropes about paranoid lunatics that undercut the stronger points of the story — such as a room chock full of newspaper clippings connected by yarn, something borrowed from a plethora of serial killer and conspiracy theory thrillers.
I Trapped the Devil, an IFC Midnight release, feels stretched out at its 82-minute running time. Cutting it down to a leaner length might have shored up some of its issues. Overall, though, it is an entertaining offering well worth viewing, especially because of the fine performances by its three leads. Lobo has an eye for creepy visuals and shows flashes of flair here. It will be interesting to see what he serves up next for fright fare fans.
- Joseph Perry, I Trapped the Devil