DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN (2016)

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Weird people in weird towns are a genre staple that crop up pretty frequently in low budget features. And why not? After all, a creative hand can do plenty of interesting things with the premise and fill a whole script with oddball character actors without anyone feeling out of place. It’s also one of those ideas that is usually quite eerie since it’s easy to imagine strange things going on behind closed doors in secluded areas. Here law and order, as well as a sense of community, can be twisted into something far more unfriendly. However, it still requires some imagination, and a little craft, to create that perfect sense of imbalance while telling an effective story. Unfortunately in this case the footage of empty holes at a construction site in the opening is symbolic of things to come.

Jordan Lewis and Marc Slanger

John (Marc Slanger) is a big shot manager for a construction business in the Big Apple. However, tragedy looms and his goals of building a family while achieving a new promotion are shattered when his new wife Samantha (Jordan Lewis) suffers a miscarriage. With his own personal problems already causing stress for the couple they move out of the city when a chance to oversee the development (0r as film itself says ‘devolopment’) of a Casino out in the sticks comes along. After a lot of awkward legal talk, and plenty of recycled building site footage, they head out to a small town called Frostburg to get a fresh start. But it’s not long before some rather strange goings on begin.

It starts with small things like weird local residents knowing their names. There’s also the fact that the general store has some sort of creepy altar left unattended for anyone to see. Samantha’s observation that this is ‘kind of Satanic like’ is both a clear sign of things to come in the story, as well as an indication of the acting and dialogue quality you can expect. However, purely as a basic cult based thriller, the discovery of a plastic doll hanging in their basement is about is scary as things ever get. The hilarious reveal of pentagram graffiti in the house also doesn’t do the story any favours.

This isn’t exactly a film with high production values, but I’m always open to fledgling film makers trying their best to tell a story. It’s just a shame that in this case the effort leaves a lot to be desired. Torches are used in clearly lit rooms, hand held cameras shake all over the place, things are overly bright and contrasted, and the colour temperature fluctuates wildly between scenes. The music is just as inconsistent, often switching from electronic tunes and dour melodies to random noise. The editing choices that accompany all of this are also pretty wobbly with a lot of distracting cuts and random sound effects; presumably in an attempt to make things dramatic. It generally fails to create a sense of dread or any sort of real atmosphere.

Casino Devolopment

The main town location (and its inhabitants) doesn’t build any sense of unease either. The place feels way too big for a sinister hamlet in the middle of nowhere, and there are a lot of repeated aerial shots to give this impression of scale. The people themselves all hate John immediately and are almost all hostile. Which is understandable since he’s there to push people off their land by coercive methods, but that means it’s hard to sympathise with him as lead character. However, both sides are pretty unlikeable in terms of the performances in general, and some of the acting is particularly stilted to say the least. A therapist John visits appears to be the reading script and a police officer he contacts when his home comes under threat tells him that ‘it was bound to happen’ and ‘it’s going to get worse’.

Some of these scenes do veer into amusing good-bad territory, but those moments are all too brief. Weird subplots about hypnosis treating PTSD, everyone in town knowing about John’s sex life, or the drama surrounding locals who refuse compensation for their property feel like filler rather than major thematic elements. It takes over an hour for anything about the occult to actually show up in what is a fairly short film (though it feels much longer at times). A lot of the time John just wanders around drinking himself into a stupor as random bar flies giving exposition about ‘evil’ in the town. Which feels tacked on so they can rush to a disconnected and messy conclusion. For a story about construction projects and planning permission I’m afraid they’ve built this one on a swamp.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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About Mocata 144 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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