Bedeviled (2016)

Directed by: ,
Written by: ,
Starring: , ,

Directed by Abel Vang and Burlee Vang

Yet another reminder that the deep, dark web is a nasty place to be these days. This offering from the Vang brothers is the latest in a line of cautionary tales about turning on your device. Previously we’ve had curses, hackers and angry outsiders take to the internet to kill. Now meet Mr Bedevil: Siri’s evil twin. He’s a voice activated phone assistant app, with a mean sense of humour, and a knack for hallucinations. He gives dastardly advice, malicious suggestions and can make people see the things they fear most.

Following the death of her best friend, college kid Alice (Saxon Sharbino), gets invited from beyond the grave to get the software. She’s not alone – four other friends have also been asked to (they think this is nothing out of the ordinary given nobody really dies in the age of automated notifications). However, from the point of download it’s apparent this new digital friend is worse than an unwelcome troll. Worrying, he also seems to know more than just the embarrassing bits of of their browser history. He can also take on any form he wants, preying on the things that terrify them the most – if not the audience. They range from an old woman, who moves like she’s from a Grudge film, to a frankly bizarre looking teddy bear. In a Ring-lite narrative, of tracking down who shared it with who, the group try to discover the malevolent application’s origin.

From the killer, that’s like Pennywise down to taking the form of an eerie clown (complete with red balloon), to the semi-frequent rants about everyone sharing everything on the internet, Bedeviled offers little new. The monster who embodies his victims’ personal fears has been done numerous times, by the aforementioned King creation and Freddy Krueger. Moreover, there simply isn’t much in the way of sustained tension either, with only the opening scenes giving a genuine feeling of unease. On face value, the modern tech approach to a tried and tested ghost story is interesting, though there’s frustratingly little attempt to integrate it into the presentation or scares. For the most part is plays out like any other standard supernatural horror from the dial-up age. Nor is there enough of a twist on the online security theme to make it stand out from the recent plethora of cyber killer flicks. This may not have been a problem two years ago, when it was made, though its perhaps a sign of how fast the times move now that it already seems as fresh as Harambe meme.

Really, the key weapon in the film’s arsenal is the genuinely creepy appearance of Mr Bedevil (even if his pasty skin, purple attire and wide smile seem more than a bit lifted from The Joker). But with him seldom showing up, which isn’t necessarily a problem itself, the movie exposes the weakness of its script. The characters simply don’t hold your attention, nor are they necessarily interesting enough to warrant it. None are especially three dimensional, being more conduits for plot, and though the acting is fine it’s not enough to sell the samey scares. Furthermore, although we see them at low points, the film’s limited emotional gravity is undermined further by the deaths not seeming to have much long-term impact on them. Sure, they can look sad but it isn’t long ‘til they’re back to the usual horseplay. I appreciate this isn’t a drama movie, though if they’re not invested then neither am I. Then you got other common pitfalls, from the obligatory thematic lecture to a rushed explanation for the supernatural foe and a goofy way to fight it. Really, if you’re watching this with a phone by your side, I can see many reaching for it.

Which is a shame, as there’s a lot of good images to miss. Whilst the Vang brothers didn’t impress me much as writers, they’re certainly accomplished visualists. Even if their fright scenes are workmanlike, with a reliance on predictable crescendos and clichéd iconography, some of them do land. In particular, a jolt based around a photograph is a joy to watch. Furthermore, the lush look and attention to detail hint at them being wonderful as either collaborators on a bigger project, or fun hacks for hire on shameless straight to VOD fodder. However, this movie is neither trashy enough to get away with its lazy writing, nor good enough to be worth watching despite it. Not terrible, but with all the things you can watch online, I wouldn’t prioritise it.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Bedeviled is available now on VOD.

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About david.s.smith 450 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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