Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Diabolical: Home Sweet Horror
Madison is a conscientious mother, but since
the death of her emotionally disturbed husband, she has been saddled with a
difficult mortgage and a problem child. Unfortunately, she cannot sell her son
Jacob, because that would be wrong, or her house, because it is haunted. The
family is stuck between a rock and a supernatural place in Alistair Legrand’s The Diabolical (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in select theaters.
By now, Madison, Jacob, and his younger sister
Haley fully accept they are living in a haunted house. They have simply seen
too much, too frequently, to remain in denial. Madison has brought in
paranormal researchers, but they have all beat hasty retreats. So who’s she
gonna call? Maybe Nikolai, Jacob’s cool science teacher, who she has been
seeing on the sly.
Unfortunately, when it rains for Madison, it
pours. Just as Jacob was finishing his mandated counseling sessions for his
last “incident,” he launches into another fight at school. Ostensibly, she
seems to catch a break when her mortgage company offers to buy back her house
at favorable terms as part of a dodgy development scheme. However, an unseen
force refuses to let Jacob and Haley leave the property, attacking their
nervous systems as soon as they advance past the front porch.
Actually, things are not what they seem in Diabolical, but it would be telling to
explain how so. Technically, we have seen all the elements Legrand eventually
reveals in some form or another in any number of previous films, but he gives
them all a deeply sinister twist, while telegraphing absolutely nothing. His
execution is unusually tense and creepy. With co-writer Luke Harvis, Legrand
taps into the current mortgage-based economic anxieties, without overplaying
the topicality card. Viewers just get a visceral sense Madison is physically
and emotionally trapped in that house.
Despite still looking like a supermodel, Ali
Larter is quite compelling as Madison. Frankly, her work as the anxiety and
guilt-ridden mother compares favorably with Essie Davis in the over-hyped Babadook. (The Diabolical addresses similar themes, but does a better job
taking care of the genre business.) Arjun Gupta’s work as Nikolai is also
notable for its subtlety and intelligence, especially when grading on a horror
This is turning out
to be a very strong season for horror films—and The Diabolical definitely reinforces and advances that trend.
Larter and Gupta show actors can still ply their craft in genre films, while
Legrand maintains a distinctively uncanny atmosphere. Recommended with
enthusiasm for horror fans, The
Diabolical opens tomorrow (10/16) in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema and
also releases on iTunes.
Labels: Ali Larter, Horror Movies