Talk about a holiday gone bad. The protagonists in writer/director Josh Lobo’s I Trapped the Devil go through an ordeal that puts the Griswolds’ Christmas Vacation to shame – for it’s the Devil Himself with whom they may or may not be contending. That ambiguity is one of the aspects that Lobo – who clearly knows a thing or two about horror – nails in his by turns frightening and silly feature directorial debut. His awareness of the fact that “what’s behind the door” is infinitely scarier than actually seeing a digitally-rendered ghoul is sadly offset by his reliance on jarring images and music cues, as well as the film’s sluggish pace and laughable dialogue.
Couple Matt (AJ Bowen) and Karen (Susan Burke) drop in unexpectedly on Matt’s reclusive, paranoid brother Steve (Scott Poythress) during Christmas. Only they’re not exactly welcome. “You can’t stay here,” Steve proclaims, all crazed, holding a knife, surrounded by a horde of s**t and eerie twinkling lights. “You’ve seen me, and now you’ve gotta go.” Matt acutely observes that “something feels wrong,” before having an awkward dinner with his beloved sibling, the phone ringing incessantly in the background.
“…leads the couple to question whether he’s bonkers or it really may be the Antichrist…”
Steve reveals that he’s trapped someone in the basement, someone he believes to be the Devil. He leads Matt and Karen down to a crimson-lit, triple-bolted door, a distorted voice pleading for mercy on the other side. Then there’s the room of conspiracy theories about Satan’s existence, along with Steve’s (nonsensical) rhetoric regarding the prevailing Evil in this world, all of which leads the couple to question whether he’s bonkers or it really may be the Antichrist behind that door.
Lobo has a knack for gradually building tension and expertly handling genuinely frightening moments, as is evident in the scene where Karen confronts the being behind the door, holding a cross for protection, just in case. The terrifying finale, with its disturbing revelation, by itself, makes the somewhat-bumpy ride preceding it worth taking. I Trapped the Devil even briefly touches upon familial relationships: “What happened to us?” Matt asks at one point, questioning his brotherly devotion.