Free time has been a scarce commodity in the life of yours truly lately, but when I actually did have a little bit of it the other night, I did something really stupid. I was thinking of heading out to the theater to see The Witch — which I should have done and still need to do — but instead I stayed home, fired up Netflix, and watched the 2015 modestly-budgeted indie horror The Diabolical. Big mistake.
Oh, sure, I’ve seen worse horror flicks than this — if you can even fairly classify this debut effort from director/co-writer (along with Luke Harvin) Alistair Legrand as a “horror flick” — but seldom do you encounter one trying to punch its way up out of its weight class with so little success. The Diabolical takes a heck of a long time to get going, and once it does, the simple fact is that it just isn’t headed anywhere as interesting as it thinks it is.
I give Legrand credit for attempting what I suppose could be a unique genre mash-up here if handled correctly, the problem is simply that — well, it’s not handled correctly. Certain things most assuredly do work — the musical score is reasonably effective, the editing is first-rate, and the cinematography is definitely solid on the whole — but when you saddle yourself with a story this heavy on the build-up, the payoff needs to be big, and I’m sorry to say that in this case it’s very nearly non-existent, and there’s nothing all the technical expertise in the world can do to salvage that.
Anyway, about that story — single mother Madison (Ali Larter) and her two kids, Jacob (Max Rose) and Haley (Chloe Perrin) have just moved into a new house that the family can in no way afford, and while an over-sized mortgage can be scary enough in and of itself, when you throw in the usual “haunted house” bullshit (strange noises, rattling objects, you know the drill) it’s probably a sign that you should call a realtor and just cut your losses. They stick it out, though, because that’s what people in movies like this do, and even go so far as to hire an internet “paranormal investigation” team to check the place out, only to have them come up empty-handed in their search for malignant spirits.
Enter scientist/ quasi-romantic interest Nikolai (Arjun Gupta), who looks for and ultimately finds a far more earthly explanation for the weird goings-on — and one that ties in with the machinations of a dastardly corporation that has a vested interest in forcing Madison and her kids out of their debt-bloated new digs. It’s at this point that The Diabolical shifts gears into sci-fi territory and the thematic switcheroo really doesn’t do the proceedings any favors so much as it confirms our suspicions that there’s nothing to be scared of here because, well, there’s nothing actually scary going on. So, yeah — all of that for nothing, I guess.
The cast does an alright, if not particularly special, job with what they’re given here and Larter seems to have what it takes to carry a film, but there’s nothing going on in The Diabolical worth carrying and Jacob’s early-on admonition that they should just fucking move again is solid advice to anyone in his mother’s cash-strapped position even if their house isn’t haunted. Which, as it happens, is exactly the case here —even if the first 3/4 of the flick tries its best to convince you otherwise. All in all, this one’s well worth taking a pass on.