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Film Review: Devil’s Night (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

A celebrity-obsessed teen seeking fame and fortune via viral videos finds a satanic documentary that leads him to a world of pure evil.

REVIEW:

Director: Todd Bishop
Writer: Derek Rethwisch
Starring: Adam Forrest, Elizabeth Peterson, Alex Ho, Kristina Cohen Kruz, Nolan Freeman, Shani Atias, and Kevin Grossman

Devil’s Night is a stylized found-footage horror film from comedy-segment director Todd Bishop (Our Robocop Remake, Jimmy Kimmel Live! Series), and screenwriter Derek Rethwisch (My Homework Ate My Dog). What sets this boy-meets-demon film apart from its countless brethren is the variety of camera styles utilized, as well as solid lead performances from Adam Forrest (Fujiyama Ichiban) and Elizabeth Peterson (Avengers Grim, Halloween Hell).

The story follows young Daniel (Adam Forrest), a small town wannabe internet celebrity, as he aims his Jackass-style YouTube show’s sights on a local urban legend. Said urban legend involves a teenage boy who slaughtered seven of his friends and family members in his home, and filmed himself performing satanic acts. Daniel, to the displeasure of his girlfriend Anna (Elizabeth Peterson), invites her and five friends to the abandoned murder house, which he’s set up with spooky booby-traps and cameras. Unfortunately for them all, what was supposed to be a simulated blood sacrifice ends up being the real thing, and unleashes a demonic force hell-bent on tormenting the living.

The film is presented in three main formats. The first, and my favorite, comes in the form of an 80’s VHS-style true-crime documentary on the original urban legend murders. These scenes look legitimately vintage, and sell the mondo-vibe that will set obscure film fans’ hearts a flutter. The second format is made of “Dumb F*ck” episodes, which are presented as Daniel’s web posts.

These don’t actually look like real YouTube posts, mainly because they’re expertly produced. As an audience, I’m okay with the upgrade, as they provide a nice contrast to the rest of the film. The content of these episodes is also enticing, as they show a slow building of Daniel’s occult interest. The last format makes up the bulk of the movie, and is footage culled from static cameras placed throughout the urban legend’s murder house. These camera shots are well set up, and give director Bishop a lot of room to obscure details at will. All in all, each format is well-concocted and utilized, and kept me from being bored throughout the film’s substantial setup time. If I had my wish, I’d have an entire film done in the faux-documentary style of the 80’s footage, however, as there are a lot of video hounds who’d snap that up.

Adam Forrest’s overly eager, boyish face is a solid cast for Daniel, and he mugs to the camera enough to be unnerving, but not totally unlikable. Elizabeth Peterson does a good job playing the doting girlfriend, and while she supports Daniel too much, she isn’t a prop; from her portrayal comes a helpless naiveté that reads as believable, rather than irritating. Joining the pair is Alex Ho as roommate Kevin, who doesn’t add much, but his self-preservation bordering on cowardice provides a nice counterpoint to Anna.

Nolan Freeman adds to the cast as Nathan, the goodhearted dumb guy who picks up the requisite panicking girl Meg (portrayed by Kristina Cohen Kruz, who readers may recognize from her recent allegations of rape against Gossip Girl actor Ed Westwick). Cohen Kruz, it should be said, nicely fleshes out a small part, something that Mr. Westwick has never been capable of.

The final members of threatened cadre include nerdy magician Jack (Kevin Grossman, Game Shakers Series) and token promiscuous-girl Kayden (Shani Atias, Lost Boy 2015, the upcoming Elijah 2018). These last two characters disappear for virtually the entire film during a fruitless hook-up session in the car outside, and could have been cut from the film without notice.

What makes Devil’s Night an enjoyable ride is the lack of futzing around with unimportant details—scenes come and go relatively quickly, and the purpose of most scenes is readily identifiable (with minor exceptions, such as the aforementioned Jack and Kayden bits). While nothing in the script or plot is original, the presentation styles and solid character acting elevates it from dull to engaging. This breaks down in the final fifteen minutes, however, when the plot has trouble not tripping over itself. If it had been tidied up and shortened by a third, the whole film would’ve gone down better.

All the same, Devil’s Night has a lot to recommend it, especially for those of us who love both obscure documentaries and horror films. The separate styles of presentation Bishop employs in his freshman feature keep the well-trodden material from getting stale, and his cast holds up the script’s serviceable dialogue admirably. If you aren’t exhausted of the found-footage genre, and want to see an indie flick that gets it right, definitely give Devil’s Night a watch.

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