Along Came the Devil Movie Review
Written by Jeff Tolbert
Released by Gravitas Ventures
Directed by Jason DeVan
Written by Jason Devan, Heather Devan, and Dylan Matlock
2018, 89 minutes, not rated
Released on August 10th, 2018
Sydney Sweeney as Ashley
Madison Lintz as Hannah
Bruce Davidson as Reverend Michael
Jessica Barth as Tanya Winbourne
Matt Dallas as Pastor John
Along Came the Devil drops us into the story in medias res. Following the disappearance of their mother, Ashley and her older sister Jordan were abused by their father. In the film’s present, Ashley is a teenager living with her aunt Tanya. We know all this from the poorly-written opening titles, a strange way of cramming extra exposition into a film without having to bother filming it. Inexplicably, after the titles tell us what’s been going on up to now, we jump back ten years or more to witness a scene involving young Ashley and Jordan and their aforementioned abusive father, in case we didn’t remember that they had a father and he was abusive.
I usually try not to tip my hand so much in the opening paragraph of a review, but this film is such a chore that I can’t help it. This is a movie that doesn’t seem fully aware of the conventions of cinema (horror or otherwise), and in trying to ape them, falls noticeably short. Innovation would be a good thing, and storytellers are always finding new ways to tell their stories. But that isn’t what happens here.
In the present, high schooler Ashley, now ensconced in her hyper-Christian aunt Tanya’s home, randomly runs into Hannah, a childhood friend. Naturally, and with very little preamble, they almost immediately hold a séance, with predictable effects: Ashley is beset and eventually possessed by a demonic force. Also predictably, the demonic force compels previously mild Ashley to be both “sexy” (note the scare quotes) and violent, as they do. “Sexy” in this case means a midriff shirt and Daisy Dukes (are those back in?); violent means nearly biting some guy’s tongue off in a make-out session.
Tanya eventually figures out that something demonic is up with Ashley and enlists the aid of the local (non-denominational?) clergy in exorcising her. The church side of all this is especially weird. Through most of the film it all seems like a transparent piece of Christian propaganda, with a hip young pastor (and an old one, of course—more on lazy Exorcist references in a moment), Tanya’s constant, wooden proclamations of faith, and an excruciatingly bad Christian rock performance during a Sunday church service. Most of the movie feels like a promotional video you’d see at a youth group meeting or Christian retreat about how vulnerable teens are to demonic temptation, so, you know, get home early and read your bible and don’t have premarital sex.
The propaganda quality is contradicted by the total inefficacy of the church’s attempts to fix things, so I guess it could be read as a criticism of religion? Only not, because the supernatural stuff is real; it’s just that these particular church people are dumb and bad at their jobs. And now I’ve officially put more thought into all of this than anybody involved in the film’s production did.
In the interest of finding something positive, it has decent film quality, and competent acting by the supporting cast, although the inorganic writing makes it hard to tell. (People don’t talk like this.) But the female leads are utterly forgettable. Really the only standout actor (in relative terms) is the old priest, but he actually flubs a line during the crucial exorcism phase that somehow didn’t get caught in editing. There’s also some ill-advised use of slow motion in some places.
The worst aspect of Along Came the Devil is its assumption that you’ll like it because of the constant references—some would say rip-offs—of better films. Hannah makes an explicit reference to The Exorcist, and the film makers seem to think that bit of self-awareness equals a blank check to blatantly steal from that excellent movie. In the crucial exorcism scene, Ashley is tied to her bed and squirms around and speaks in a demonic voice that sounds excruciatingly like Regan’s. In a terrible slow-motion scene, the priest throws holy water on her. At one point the demon proclaims, “I’ll feast on her soul!” Everything is coming from somewhere else; everything has been done before, and much, much better.
Along Came the Devil fulfills the basic requirements of a horror narrative, barely. But it’s insultingly, almost gleefully generic.
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