Bedeviled Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by The Movie Partnership
Written and directed by Abel Vang and Burlee Vang
2016, 98 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
UK VOD release on 17th September 2018
Saxon Sharbino as Alice Gorman
Bonnie Morgan as Grandmother
Alexis G. Zall as Nikki
Brandon Soo Hoo as Dan
Kate Orsini as Susan
If you haven’t already discovered it in the real world, there are films to remind you that technology is not always our friend. In a whole slew of recent horror movies technology has become a source of terror, intimidation and torment.
In Bedeviled, brothers Abel and Burlee Vang have crafted a technological/supernatural-teen-scream thriller in which an artificially intelligent phone app utilizes its users' devices to manifest itself in the real world so that it can scare its victims to death. This particular techno-monster enjoys feeding on fear, and it likes nothing more than…having a laugh.
Saxon Sharbino plays Alice, the best friend of a girl called Nikki (Alexis G. Zall), who appears in the gripping opening sequence and who dies suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure. The film begins with the, now familiar, scenario of a group of high-school pals mourning the death of a friend who has died in unusual circumstances. As these things go, this group of teens seems to accept Nikki’s death surprisingly quickly, showing minimal concern as to what might have killed her.
Shortly after the funeral, Alice and the dead girl's boyfriend, Cody (Mitchell Edwards) and other pals Dan, (Brandon Soo Hoo), Haley (Victory Van Tuyl), and Alice’s boyfriend Gavin (Carson Boatman), all get messages on their phones from the dead girl inviting them to download an app. This causes little amazement or alarm because as we all know, in the sphere of social media, a little thing like death doesn’t interfere with automated friend requests or spam.
Initially the app seems merely to be a polite Siri/Alexa-like assistant which can turn on lights and home appliances, answer homework questions or recommend nearby venues or eating places. The friends see no problem in downloading it. However, they soon discover that it is strangely privy to their most private details and has no qualms in manipulating their personal information or spreading intimate photos without their consent.
The app calls itself Mr. Bedevil (smarmily voiced by Jordan Essoe) and becomes increasingly arrogant and menacing. When it manifests itself in tangible form it looks rather like the offspring of the Babadook and Pennywise, giving off a Puppet Master vibe in its movements. (I found Mr. Bedevil to be quite an amusingly creepy creation, and I would have considered it more satisfying if he had appeared more frequently as himself, rather than have him send out various minions to do some of his scaring).
As Mr.Bedevil begins to turn the user’s deepest fears into material form (it never ceases to amaze me how facile the ‘deepest’ fears of privileged kids usually are) the plot begins to descend into fairly standard teen-scream territory. Cody, who fortunately is a bit of a IT whizz-kid and is not averse to some light hacking, reveals a glimmer of social awareness - "Maybe our obsession with technology is causing us to project our own subconscious fears!" and later we have a clumsy attempt at a self-referential bit of business when Alice declares, “This is the perfect set-up for a bad horror movie where no-one survives!” To which Cody replies, "Not so bad, the black guy isn’t dead yet!". This is the level of banter between our so-called group of friends.
The script is unfortunately, often a bit stilted, veering between muddy contemplation of the ills of teen techno-addiction and lame humour greeted with feeble laughter. Bedeviled has the makings of a glossy fright flick, but the friendships between the mundane teens remain unconvincing. We are not emotionally engaged and so the scares aren’t as effective as they otherwise might be.
Bedeviled proves to be a conventional, but competently executed, technological-supernatural thriller. The Vang brothers have a promising initial premise, glossy visuals and some genuinely effective ideas, however, the movie often lapses into predictable narrative tropes and inevitable clichés, but nevertheless, it is still an entertaining enough sojourn with a fun AI monster.
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