Review: ALONG CAME THE DEVIL

As derivative and familiar as “Along Came the Devil” is, there are some creepy and jolting moments that give this little film some punch.

An exorcism tale, director Jason DeVan loads his little movie about a girl tormented and eventually inhabited by a demon with plenty of effective horror troupes. The story has Ashley (“The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Sydney Sweeney) recovering from a childhood trauma while attempting to ward off an evil force. As a child, she and her sister are locked in a closet as their troubled father (Atlanta’s own Mark Ashworth) has some female company. When the children reveal themselves something very bad happens.

Ten years later, Ashley is living with her aunt Tanya (Jessica Barth), and a sinister presence follows her. In time, this demon begins to manifest itself physically, with bad smells and an ominous spot that grows like mold in a corner of her bedroom. The small town revolves around church activities, which brings Ashley in contact with Pastor John (Matt Dallas). This young and hip Pastor immediately takes a liking to Ashley. Meanwhile, the Pastor is taking guidance from his mentor, the learned and experienced Reverend Michael (Bruce Davison), who seems to be hiding something.

As Ashley settles in, she becomes friends with Hannah (Madison Lintz), a knowledgeable girl enchanted with studying the occult. Hannah introduces her friends to an app on her cell phone that monitors paranormal audio in the environment. Of course, this further flushes out Ashely’s demon, that steps up its efforts to manipulate and possess her.

“Along Came the Devil” is very much aware of the history of the genre. At one point, a character even mentions William Friedkin’s 1973 classic “The Exorcist.” Clearly, DeVan and his team aren’t trying to hide their influences and even try to trade on them. And, to be fair, every exorcism film made since the 1973 suffers by comparison. “Along Came the Devil” is no classic in the genre, but there are solid jolts and there’s this frightening demon character that is unique and well-crafted.

At certain points in the film, Ashley is visited by a horned, humanoid, ghostly beast. The creature seems to climb out of the walls of her bedroom and hover over her. It’s an image that works pretty well. And I wanted to see more of that demon and understand its motivations.

Performances are uniformly good, with Sweeney, who was so excellent as Eden Spencer in the second season of HULU’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” leading the way. She’s surrounded by an attractive and game supporting cast. The veteran actor Davison is very good, playing a boozing and guilty Reverend charged with shepherding a young Pastor and cluing him in on the exorcism trade.

DeVan makes good use of the suburban setting, especially with scenes set in a Georgia river community. His cinematographer Justin Duval produces very clean, but cinematic images that convey a sufficiently haunting visual tone. And Duval’s work is matched up and down the credits, as the score and sound design pulls every genre trick required to enhance every bump and rattle in the dangerous darkness. This is a humble, but handsome production, that rivals many bigger budgeted fare—Netflix’ recently released, cheap looking “Insatiable” is a notable example.

Ultimately, “Along Came the Devil” is the sign of the times. Audiences have seen it all before. But the general malaise associated with reception of this type of storyline can’t ignore when a group of talented folks get a chance to explore the genre. Let’s face it, the money in film is risk averse and hesitant to fund wholly original material. A decent exorcism film, like this one, can turn a profit and show off what a group of struggling artists can do with even limited resources.

And with this tiny, certainly familiar horror entry, that’s bound to cover its small budget and then some, filmmaker DeVan sets himself up for a larger project that will, hopefully, exorcise himself from genre limitations. What he’s done here is creatively avoid the kind of hackneyed approach that produces a bad film, delivering instead a diverting, entertaining, and, at times, scary addition to the horror space.

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