‘The Diabolical’: Film Review

Diabolical Still 1-H 2015
Courtesy of Courtesy of XLrator Media

More psychological than diabolical. 

Alistair Legrand’s debut feature attempts to get maximum mileage from a minimal narrative.

Low-budget horror movies are often particularly appealing to novice filmmakers, since they offer the opportunity to economize on production costs while demonstrating a grasp of genre aesthetics. Commercial and music video director Alistair Legrand perhaps takes the downsizing a bit too far by opting not to entirely deliver on typical scary-movie expectations or reference timely Halloween themes, choices that may make the film most suitable for late-night VOD and Internet surfing.

An extended, graceful opening shot reveals Madison (Ali Larter), a 30ish widowed, single mother with two kids under the age of ten who certainly has enough to manage without having to deal with a house haunting on top of it all. But she seems strangely accustomed to the paranormal disruptions in her home, which often begin with classic poltergeist-like activity, including moving furniture, slamming doors and self-animated children’s toys. It’s not until the disturbances progress to sudden appearances by bloody, faceless human figures that Madison and her eldest child Jacob (Max Rose) begin to really freak out, but young daughter Hayley (Chloe Perrin) seems content to chat up the unexpected apparitions when they materialize in her bedroom in a flash of light and just as suddenly disappear.

Madison can’t bring herself to disclose the haunting in her home, or her impending bankruptcy, to scientist boyfriend Nikolai (Arjun Gupta), even when he stops by the house to distract her with a bit of romance. The frequency of the ghoulish entities’ manifestations intensifies and they begin resolving into three distinct figures, with the final addition a hulking bald-headed man who’s far more threatening than he is scary. Nikolai eventually discovers Madison’s secret and sets up cameras and electronic monitoring equipment around the house in a bid to help her banish the malevolent spirits, but Madison’s own investigation begins revealing connections between Nikolai and her unwanted visitors, leading her to question his true intentions.

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First-timer Legrand demonstrates more visual flair than storytelling expertise in the haunted-house script co-written Luke Harvis. The duo clutter their screenplay with unproductive subplots and neglect to imbue their characters with adequate complexity to maintain interest. With half the principal cast still in grade school, the writers ignore the necessity of providing the adult characters with sufficiently engaging personalities or motivations. A genre shift toward sci-fi in a final twist late in the film only emphasizes the stylistic inconsistencies.

The child actors pull their own weight throughout, but Larter sometimes appears to be sleepwalking through the movie, indulging in repetitive facial expressions and body language as she confronts the otherworldly disturbances in her home. Gupta shows some substance in the early going, but gets sidelined as the plot increasingly focuses on the frightening visitations.

Working with a capable crew, Legrand delivers some fairly realistic-looking creatures that are often more revolting than they are scary. Still, his directing is dominated by a strong visual aesthetic and although the film’s overall style is rooted in horror conventions, there’s a certain distancing that’s even more disturbing for its objective, observational perspective.

Production company: Campfire

Cast: Ali Larter, Arjun Gupta, Max Rose, Chloe Perrin, Kurt Carley, Merrin Dungey, Patrick Fischler

Director: Alistair Legrand

Screenwriter: Alistair Legrand, Luke Harvis

Producer:  Ross M. Dinerstein

Executive producers: Jamie Carmichael, Kevin Iwashina

Director of photography: John Frost

Production designer: Mona Hahn

Costume designer:Michelle Thompson

Editors: Blair Miller

Music: Ian Hultquist

Casting Lindsey Kroeger


No rating, 86 minutes