Full disclosure: One of the producers of this film, Scott Weinberg, is a longtime friend and colleague, and writer-director Josh Lobo is a pal I’ve socialized with at film festivals. Honestly, I think this association makes me more critical of the film, not less, but you can decide for yourself.
Heavier on atmosphere than story, “I Trapped the Devil” is a dreamy, ominous, and at times frustrating horror film from first-time writer-director Josh Lobo. The title is admirably direct and non-metaphorical: Matt (AJ Bowen) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke) drop in unannounced on Matt’s brother Steve (Scott Poythress) at Christmastime and discover that there’s a man locked in the basement who Steve believes is literally Satan. Matt has been worried about Steve anyway — he’s prone to depression ever since a recent tragedy — and this new business is more cause for alarm. Whoever’s in the basement, it’s obviously not the devil … right?
The premise and plot are essentially the same as the 1960 “Twilight Zone” episode “The Howling Man,” but Lobo dresses it up with a nightmarishly foreboding musical score and sound design (lots of atonal industrial noises) and some dream logic. At no point do Matt and Karen ask basic questions like how long the man has been in Steve’s custody or where he found him, and even though they talk to the man himself through the door behind which he’s barricaded (he has a sonorous, gently creepy voice, provided by Chris Sullivan), they don’t ask him who he is or how he got there. There are surreal touches like an old TV set that erratically shows bizarre images. Mixed with this are more placid scenes than the film needed of Matt and Karen discussing what to do about the situation.
Is the ethereal and mysterious mood enough to compensate for a screenplay that spins its wheels too much? It is for me. The interactions with the prisoner are chilling, and the rest has just enough malevolent gloom to make it a modestly unnerving effort for horror connoisseurs.
B- (1 hr., 23 min.; )