29th Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘The Diabolical’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Ali Larter, Patrick Fischler, Arjun Gupta, Tom Wright, Chloe Perrin | Written by Alistair Legrand, Luke Harvis | Directed by Alistair Legrand

the-diabolical-cast

Single mother Madison and her two children keep being awoken nightly by an increasingly strange and intense presence. Seeking help from her scientist boyfriend, they embark on a hunt to destroy the violent spirit that paranormal experts are too scared to take on. But what is Project Echo and why does that past experiment seem to be impacting on their frightening present?

Ahhh the haunted house movie. A staple of horror since the very early days of genre cinema. A staple that has yet to be truly reinvented or reimagined. The Diabolical tries, it really does – for which is should be appluaded – but it does so by abandoning the tropes of horror in favour of science-fiction… That’s not to say the film doesn’t work, there are subtle scenes strewn throughout which allude to just what is going on, leaning more towards something more scientifc rather than supernatural.

But there lies the rub. The Diabolical tries to be everything at once, and its not until the science prevails – in the form of Madison’s boyfriend helping them discover whats going on – that we actually get any semblance of story beyond the re-occurring nightmare of Madison and her family seeing “ghosts”. You really do have to bear with the oft-repeated cycle of ghost appears, ghost disappears, we’re scared, we’re not scared, ghost appears, ghost disappears, we’re scared, we’re not scared, and so on and so on.

The sting in this films tale is, for those of us familiar with the likes of Timecrimes and Triangle, is nothing new, but The Diabolical doesn’t feel like its treading the same familiar ground. By making Madison and her family the core of the story it allows us to empathise with the situation, so much so that – for a short period of time – I was expecting the film to go down the same route as The Babbadook and have Madison be the root cause of everyones suffering. For it plays along the same familial abuse themes – a struggling mother under immense emotional and financial pressure, a son who has behavioural problems, ghostly manifestations causing physical injury… See what I mean? It’s a credit to the filmmakers that they manage to swerve expectations so well.

So then it seems such a shame that any subtleties in the story are let down by an ending which seems to pander to the lowest common denominator, i.e. those NOT paying attention. For those who are, we know what’s happening, we know who and why, there really was no need to spell it out for us in such a laboured manner – but The Diabolical does which, I thought, makes a somewhat of a mockery of those invested in the film. And to top it all off we get a ridiculous, some might say sappy, happy ending. Which might not be as happy as it first seems (yes, the subtlety returns once again at the films conclusion).

An EC Comics-like tale, The Diabolical isn’t as bad as its title makes out(!). It’s certainly a step up from the more mainstream horror fare (Blumhouse I’m looking at you) we’re subjected too in the multiplex thanks to the genre-blending story and a fantastic central performance from Ali Larter.

*** 3/5

The Diabolical will be released in select UK Cinemas and on VOD platforms on Friday October 16th and to DVD on Monday October 19th 2015.

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