Following hot on the heels of this year’s decent, but ultimately pointless, Poltergeist remake comes The Diabolical, a paranormal thriller in the same vein as that most famous of paranormal thrillers that wisely eschews the usual tendency towards found footage in favour of a classic, straight cinematic narrative.
The movie will also score points with genre fans by kicking things off with the haunting in full swing, avoiding the typically dull setup sequences and moments of disbelieving characters shaking their heads in spite of the evidence staring them in the face. It also stars Final Destination 1 & 2‘s Ali Larter, a fine actress and somewhat regular figure in genre film.
Larter is Madison, a stressed single mother of two, facing bankruptcy and foreclosure on her home. The sharks are circling and when we first meet her–following a terrific cold opening, which deftly establishes the premise without the need for any exposition whatsoever–she’s falling asleep at her laptop, exhausted from trying to hold it all together.
Her kids don’t really help matters. As per usual, one has behavioural issues (hinted at, but never over-explained, thankfully) and the other is a cute little dope who thinks the demons plaguing their home are her friends/dead father. However, unlike recent, similar offerings, the paranormal investigators flee the property upon discovering what lurks beneath, leaving the family to fend for themselves.
The Diabolical, the debut feature from director Alistair Legrand, who co-wrote the script with fellow first-timer Luke Harvis, is half of a good movie. The first act, which mostly features the bloodied, crawling, heart-stopping demons wreaking havoc on Madison and her kids, is great: It’s cary, fun and a refreshingly different entry into an overdone sub-genre. References to Poltergeist seem out of place in a movie that strives so hard to be something different.
Unfortunately, it’s these differences that ultimately sink The Diabolical. There’s a twist about two-thirds of the way through that, though implausible, is interesting enough to keep things ticking over a bit longer. But when Legrand and Harvis decide to expand upon it, creating a greater universe that nods toward the outer layers of science fiction, the flick ties itself up in knots trying to make sense of everything.
Suspension of disbelief is, obviously, a requirement for watching movies in general. But horror, in particular, is usually so outlandish that it has to work even harder for an audience not to immediately turn against it. Horror movies need to either give us characters we can root for/whose death we can have fun plotting, or a genuine, real threat we’re scared of, in order to compensate when things get a bit loopy.
The Diabolical has neither, in spite of a winning central performance from Larter (although, sadly, she doesn’t get to gut anybody and play Twister with their vitals). It’s a real shame, because up until the big reveal (the first of two, technically), the film pads along nicely, with decent scares, some great make-up and SFX on the demons themselves (who twist, crawl and contort accordingly) and a sense of impending doom that isn’t entirely to do with the paranormal threat.
Part of the reason this movie isn’t completely DOA is because Madison is a fully fleshed-out, believable human being and it’s easy to empathise with her very real struggle. The demons in her life aren’t just those appearing out of the walls, they exist in the people trying to push her out of her home, or in those who are chasing her to recoup debts she can’t afford to pay.
The film does Madison a disservice by wrapping things up the way it does, considering she’s the strongest, and most present character, even if the contrived ending kind of makes sense given the ludicrousness of what’s preceded it. You almost want to give The Diabolical a pass for its valiant efforts to do something new with the same old, over-told story.
Unfortunately, there’s far too much going on for the strongest elements (Madison and the demons) to make a proper impact. An utterly contrived reveal leads to everything going completely mental, as the film tries desperately to be a dozen different things at once. And, rather than recover and leave us with one, significant statement, it pushes the madness to the point that even poor Ali Larter can’t save it.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Alistair Legrand
Writer(s): Alistair Legrand, Luke Harvis
Stars: Ali Larter, Wilmer Calderon, Thomas Kuc, Chloe Perrin
Studio/ Production Co: Campfire
Length: 86 minutes